March 2, 2012: The Tenth Day of Lent

March 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” ~ Matthew 5.7 ~

Of the Beatitudes that we have looked at so far, this appears to be the most like a simple cause-and-effect statement. The temptation here is to see this Beatitude as a natural law or axiom, much like, “What goes around comes around,” or, “A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6.7).

However, because of our understanding of the Beatitudes as a progression, this statement takes on much richer meaning. It also makes more sense. As we have read the Beatitudes, we have seen that a place of brokenness and recognition of our own spiritual bankruptcy serves as our entry point into the Kingdom of God. All of the following Beatitudes build upon this truth and progress from it.

Yesterday, we read about hungering and thirsting for righteousness. (Matt. 5.6) It might be easy to associate righteousness with justice and mercy with grace; however, this understanding would leave us off base. In the Hebrew world, righteousness meant following the Law (which had love as its greatest command) and treating your neighbor properly. Mercy meant pardoning others for offenses and helping those in need. We can see that the two meanings actually go hand-in-hand!

When we see our own place of need, we recognize the mercy that God extends to us (on a daily basis!) and we can also see the fact that the world around us needs mercy as well. Part of our hungering after righteousness and being agents of redemption in the world means that we are people of mercy – people who freely share grace, whether others deserve it or not. This is the blessing: we are part of a reality where people showing God’s mercy to one another is the rule, not the exception. In the final judgment, we can be assured of Christ’s mercy for us, since it is an extension of his mercy already demonstrated on the cross.

We must remember, this is not cause-and-effect. We do not read this Beatitude and then go and perform acts of mercy with the understanding that others should cut us slack in return. Rather, this verse says two things: first, all mercy ultimately comes from God. If we are in a place where we can share it with others, it is because God has shown us mercy first. Second,  this desire and ability to show mercy comes from God as an ongoing process of spiritual development and transformation. We don’t give mercy to get mercy; rather, we act in merciful ways because we serve the one who committed the ultimate merciful act (Christ on the cross). In so doing, we allow his mercy to be shared with others.

The difficult part about this teaching is that already in our culture, mercy is not valued highly. On top of that, oftentimes we feel as though we are isolated and our actions do not affect others. We extend mercy in ways that may be obvious to us: forgiving an offense, letting a grudge go. But there are more opportunities to show mercy. For example, if I receive poor service at a restaurant where my server is visibly distraught and having a terrible evening, I can show mercy by giving a full tip. If I’m driving and I receive a text message, I can show mercy by placing the safety of my passengers, others on the road, and myself (!) above my need to communicate in that given moment by continuing to focus on the road and waiting for a better time to pick up the phone. Ultimately, this Beatitude has far-reaching implications. Remember, it’s part of a process of spiritual formation; as Thomas Merton would say, we are letting the self-centered false self go. Our true self, a Christ-centered self, is being born in its place. As a result, we live with Christ’s values and the values of the Kingdom of Heaven as our own.

How can we show mercy? Where does our culture discourage mercy? Are there pressing situations in your life that could be resolved if you acted mercifully? What about tendencies or habits that you may have that do not show mercy to others? In this time of Lent (and the rest of the year, for that matter), we all need God’s mercy. Let us live accordingly.

Lord Christ, I confess that it is not in my nature to be merciful, even though you have shown me so much mercy. Bring about a new heart in me, Lord – one that treats others with your grace. Amen. 

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