In times of great financial crisis, people sometimes need and ask for compassion as they struggle to pay bills and feed their loved ones.
As he faced the large crowd of people on the mountainside, Jesus sought to teach them about the most basic attributes of human life that is pleasing to God. He said, for example, that humility is essential to belonging to the kingdom of heaven; that grief over sin will allow us to know the comfort of God, and that a spirit of submissiveness to God and others brings about our inheritance of the earth. He also said that those who are hungry and thirsty for spiritual food and water will receive all they want.
Then he added a fifth principle: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)
In the Old Testament section of Holy Scripture, the concept of mercy usually refers to the mercy of God. We’re told that God delights in offering the blessing of his compassion and sympathy. In the King James Version of Psalm 136, the phrase “his mercy endures forever” is used 26 times. Newer translations often use the term “steadfast love,” so the prophet Micah asked the rhetorical question, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.” (Micah 7:18)
But the goal of God for us is that we become like him — not in every respect, of course, for we can’t do all that he does, nor do we possess his knowledge. But, because mercy is a characteristic of God exhibited toward others, he wants us to also display loving mercy for those around us, even our worst enemies. Mercy is more than sympathy. It can be described as empathetic or understanding loving action for our neighbors.
Surely you remember the parable of the “good Samaritan,” found in Luke 10:25-37. This man showed mercy in a way that the recipient of his mercy very possibly would not have demonstrated toward him, had their situations been reversed. After all, “Jews have no dealing with Samaritans” (John 4:9), and the opposite was almost certainly true. But this Samaritan didn’t allow the racial hatred between their peoples to stop him from doing what he knew was humane. He was willing to sacrifice his money, time and perhaps his safety and reputation in order to do what was right.
Six-year-old Erika Carlson was born with a life threatening disease. For years she’s had to travel from Maine to Boston several times a year. The 12-hour drive became too draining for Erika and her parents. That’s when Scott Coleman stepped in. As an amateur pilot, he volunteered to fly Erika to Boston. Each trip comes at a great sacrifice to him. In addition to his time, the trip costs $1,200. But since Scott knows Erika desperately needs the treatment, he is willing to make the sacrifice.
Jesus completed this particular offer of blessing about mercy by promising that the merciful “will receive mercy.” As is the case with forgiveness, we must give mercy to others in order to receive mercy from God. In discussing the sin of showing partiality, or judging others because of their lower social status, James, one of Jesus’ brothers, warns us that “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.” (James 2:13)
When you’re in a position to give mercy to others, remember that you desire that God be merciful to you.