Blessed are the merciful
Part 5 of the series on the beatitudes.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Matthew 5 verse 7 (NRSV).
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .
The total length of the recording is .
The early part of the talk is missing from this recording. It included a short discussion of the scene from the film of Les Miserables in which Jean Valjean is taken by soldiers to the home of the Bishop who gave Valjean free lodging for the night but from whom Valjean stole some silver tableware. Instead of condemning Valjean the bishop shows mercy, gives him more silverware but warns Valjean that, in doing this, he has ransomed Valjean's soul and given it to God. The scene is available on YouTube (3 minutes 33 seconds).
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We could ask ourselves, well, the Western allies, why are they not dropping aid rather than bombs, rather than taking sides? Where’s the compassion on the human race? Within these seven years, the UK could have stepped in with much more aid than perhaps it has. Because that’s mercy: responding to a need with grace, and care, and action which others cannot do for themselves. Even now, we can petition our world leaders to do something about any number of atrocities and issues that face our planet and the plight of many people in this world.
We say there’s a lot of injustice in our world, the absence of mercy is a bad sign. As the writer of the book of James in the New Testament says, “What good is it my brothers and sisters if a person claims to have faith but no deeds. Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food, if one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well, keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” In the same way, James says, in the same way, faith by itself, if it’s not accompanied by action is dead.
Whilst the absence of mercy is an awful thing, the presence of mercy is an amazing thing.
Psalm 37:21 says, “The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.” This word mercy, it means to pour out. We cannot pour out a mug of tea or coffee unless it’s accompanied by the act of pouring. Clever, ain’t it? Mercy then is not doing nothing, Mercy is pouring out. If you like it, unscrewing the lid of what’s precious to me and pouring it out on you. Mercy is an action word. Mercy is one of those words that is an outward- acting word. Was the previous runs on the beatitudes that it might seem to be quite internal, t his beatitude is quite forcefully outward. Mercifulness of both equality and an action. What does it look like to be merciful?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way, “As if their own needs and their own distress were not enough, they take upon themselves the distress, and the humiliation, and sin of others. They have an irresistible love for the downtrodden, the sick, the wretched, the wrong, the outcast, and all who are tortured with anxiety. No distress is too great, no sin too appalling for their pity. If anyone falls into disgrace, the merciful will sacrifice their own honour to shield him, to take his shame upon themselves in order that they may be merciful. They cast away the most priceless treasure of human life, their personal dignity, and their personal honour. For the only honour they know is the Lord’s own mercy to which they alone owe their very lives.”
Only recently we saw in France the brave act of the police officer who swapped a number of hostages for his own life. He honoured their lives with his, but even in the everyday mundaneness of life, there are people who take upon themselves actions that save others. Think about a parent who sits up all night with their crying son or daughter. Consider the doctor who at 11:00pm on a Saturday night was prescribing tablets so that I could start the road to health last weekend. What about the thousands of people who voluntarily look after ailing parents and family members. Young carers who giving up their childhoods to improve the lives of their parents and their carers.
Each one, whether or not they know it, are showing mercy to somebody else. Perhaps you know somebody who acts mercifully, who spends themselves on behalf of those who have nothing, who actively works to make the world a better, more beautiful, safe, and meaningful place. I’d suggest that we spend more time with people like that. Let’s learn what it is to be merciful. It’s not something that we do lightly, but it makes the world of difference. In Matthew chapter 11, Jesus invites us to learn what it is to be like when we spend time with Him and others like Him.
This is how The Message puts it, Matthew Chapter 11,
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Mercy isn’t just about action, it’s about having a deep quality of being, but it is about action too. Mercy is both a personal quality and an action. Looking at the example of Jesus, we find a wonderful Greek word [Greek word σπλαγχνίζομαι splagchnizomai (γχ is pronounced nkh)].
What a great word, [Greek word]. Whilst originally meaning to describe the heart and lungs of animals, more figuratively it became to mean the deep inner feelings of affection and pity, love and compassion. [Greek word] is the sort of word when Jesus saw the crowds were like sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless, in Matthew Chapter 9. The Bible says He had compassion on them. Jesus had [Greek word] upon the people. Compassion and mercy seem to be very similar things in their outworking, and so when Jesus was moved with compassion, it was a deep, rich emotion. [Greek word] moved Jesus to action.
That feeling of, “Someone should do something about homelessness, Syria, hunger in Ethiopia, loneliness on our own doorstep. Somebody should do something,” and so somebody did. Somebody poured out their lives, somebody poured out themselves. Somebody according to Philippians Chapter 2, emptied Himself. He became like a servant. Jesus took active steps to help others who were at a loss to do anything, and so he humbled himself even to death on a cross, but, of course, it doesn’t stop there. The action that Jesus took means that those who follow Him need to take action too.
When we look recently at the theme of ‘’love mercy’ in the context of act justly, love mercy, walk humbly in Micah Chapter 6, Dick led us to consider the role of the Good Samaritan, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus asked the question, “Who was the neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The response, “The one who had mercy.” Jesus told the expert of the law, “Go and do likewise.” Where is our compassion in the world? Where’s my compassion? Where’s yours? What mercy do we show one another in our corner of the world? It does involve action even if that action isn’t to solve the problem or to fix it.
As one commentator James C Howell puts it [in The Beatitudes for Today, p66], “Mercy is able quite simply to love, to be compassionate, whether the hurt is curable or not, whether the wrong can be righted or not. Mercy can just stay with the one in need of mercy.” And in mercy, I show respect. I shared the dignity of the one whose self-respect and sense of dignity have been shredded. We all need mercy. We all need the benefits of the doubt, to be forgiven, to be vulnerable in front of God, and sometimes in front of one another. To ask for help, to seek mercy.
The Old Testament speaks of the mercy seat, a bit of the Ark of the Covenant from where God speaks. You can find out a bit more about that in Exodus Chapter 25 and Leviticus 16.
We can come openly to Father God finding mercy, finding forgiveness from sin, and that grace to start afresh. The caveat is that we treat others the same way. To return to our video clip from earlier, we see in the bishop’s very difficult choices the truth of Jesus. We have been called to love like the bishop. When we see how hard this is for the bishop’s house woman, we realize that it takes great spiritual maturity to make choices like these. The bishop was able to love Jean Valjean because he saw in Valjean a man who is greatly loved by God.
Even in Valjean’ s worst moments, the bishops saw a wonderful creation of God who could be redeemed. This is the life of Jesus pouring out of the bishop. This is the mercy pouring out of the bishop. This is the gospel, the good news that you and I are called to live. Let’s have a moment of quiet.
As we were praying and singing earlier, upon our nation have mercy, Lord. Father God, we know that we don’t match up to your standards, we know that we fall short, we know that we fail one another at times. Father God, thank you that mercy is quite simply the ability to love. Would you help us to seek out how to be merciful? For those who perhaps are merciful each day in their own individual circumstances, would you please give them everything that they need to continue to show that mercy. Would you strengthen us, would you enable us to know what it is to be like the woman who poured out her perfume on the feet of Jesus.
To be that close to you, to know how much it hurts you when we sin. To know how much it’s fantastic when we know that we’re forgiven. In your mercy, Father God, hear our prayer. Amen.
We’re going to close our service this morning with a song which I think we know, it’s number 716 in the Green Book, Filled With Compassion. Again, it’s one of those songs which talks a lot about our response, how we’re going to act differently, so let’s stand to sing Filled With Compassion.
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Scripture quotations marked The Message above and in the talk are from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.