A story has been told of a mother who sought from Napoleon the pardon for her son. Apparently, to the mother’s request, Napoleon simply responded by saying that it was the man’s second offence and according to the law and justice, it demanded death, and that is what he is going to get. The story goes on to say that the mother persisted and said, “Sir, I don’t ask for justice from you, I plead for mercy.”
"But,” said the emperor, “he does not deserve any mercy.”
To which the mother replies, “Sir, it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask.”
"Well, then,” said the emperor, “I will show mercy and pardon your son.” And her son was spared from certain death.
Take a closer look at the progression posture of the beatitudes that Jesus is speaking of in Matthew 5. In verse 3, we noticed that we ought to responsively recognize our spiritual bankruptcy and mourn over it, and then we ought to follow that acqired acknowledgement with a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Today’s verse says that such people also recognize that they were shown mercy when they didn’t deserve it and therefore as Christians, will show mounting mercy toward others. And the verse concludes that if we do that, God will show mercy toward us.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy - Jesus. And then in Matthew 18, He tells us a story to explain what He really means by that. It’s a rather simple story. This fellow owed the king a lot of money, Bible says, “ten thousand denari.” In today’s currency, that is a significant amount of dollars. When he couldn’t pay, the king orders his servants to sell everything this servant had to repay the debt, and then throw him in the prison. The poor chap falls on his knees in front of the king and begs for mercy. He asks for more time and patience from the king. The king feels sorry for the guy and shows mercy by cancelling the whole debt and letting the guy go free. (I should try that with my bank sometime and see if they will forgive my mortgage.) The parable continues. This same guy who was shown such abundant mercy and forgiven a huge pile of debt, goes out a free man, runs into another one of the king’s servants who owed him a few dollars. He grabs him by the neck and starts to choke him. Pay up or I will have you thrown in jail. This poor guy also falls on his knees and begs for mercy and a bit more time to repay the debt. But, no mercy is shown. He is thrown in jail. Well, when we do such unmerciful things, they have a way of coming back to haunt us. It so happens that some of the other servants notice the injustice that has taken place and they go and tell the king everything. Well, the king gets furious. He calls the first servant in immediately and after giving him a lecture about how he has forgiven his entire debt and now this servant couldn’t do the same for another person. He then orders his servants to throw this guy in the jail and reorders that the debt should be paid back after all.
Three things I wish to focus in this verse. WHY BE MERCIFUL? The word “mercy” is used in so many ways. What does it really mean? I went to the Oxford dictionary and this is what I found - “compassion or forbearance shown to enemies or offenders in one’s power; the quality of compassion.” We may not use the word everyday, but we have opportunities to show mercy or compassion almost all the time.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Does that mean that those who are not merciful, will not be shown mercy? Not necessarily. But, showing mercy or compassion is a quality that comes into our hearts when we understand what God has done for us. It is an attitude that becomes an integral part of us when we understand the needs of those around us. We are to be merciful because the God whom we worship expects us to show mercy as we have been shown mercy. Look in your Bibles, there are so many verses that speak of this quality, not only about God, but about those who claim to be His followers. Psalm 103:8 reads, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” The apostle Paul in opening and closing his letters to the various churches uses the word mercy. 1 Timothy 1:2, “Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Why be merciful? Because it is a Christ-like quality and we are Christ’s followers. There are some religions that teach vengeance, violence, and killing in the name of god. But Jesus came to teach us the way of love and peace. As difficult as it is, we are taught to turn the other cheek and love our enemies. This is what mercy means - doing something nice to those who do not deserve it.
We are to be merciful because I believe it makes us better people. Compassionate people make this world a better place to live. Compassion with the proper attitude and motivation. Compassion that comes from the heart, not for publicity.
A second point: HOW CAN WE BE MERCIFUL? Most of us understand being merciful as being nice to those who have been nice toward us. Nothing wrong with that, except Jesus says that we ought to be careful how we do perform such acts of kindness. He suggests that we ought to do them without any fanfare. Being merciful or compassionate is saying a kind word or helping someone in need without expecting anything in return. We need to ask God to give us this attitude of mercy toward others, because as human beings it is not a natural reaction. Being merciful is the result of a new life in Jesus Christ that is possible with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Being merciful is having a genuine desire to give selflessly as God did for you and me by sending His son Jesus Christ who gave of Himself selflessly, even unto death.
We can be merciful in small ways. It doesn’t have to be in great things because as the parable of the talents suggests, if we are faithful in small things, we will be entrusted with greater responsibilities. We can be merciful by considering others as objects of God’s love and concern, people for whom Jesus died. Being merciful or compassionate means to be concerned about sharing our faith with those who do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. We can show mercy by forgiving others who offend us. Simply put, an attitude of mercy creates a goodwill toward everyone.
We can be merciful by seeking forgiveness when we have erred also. Often, we seem to overlook this aspect in our lives. We are quick to point out those who needs to seek forgiveness, but somehow have difficulty asking others to forgive our faults. I know of some people who say that they will never forgive so and so person. A man named John Oglethorpe, in talking to John Wesley, the famous church leader, once made the comment, “I never forgive people who offend me.” Mr. Wesley wisely replied, “Then sir, I hope that you never sin.” All of us need forgiveness because we fail.
A third and final point: MERCY BEGETS MERCY. Blessed or happy are the merciful, for they have understood their own need for God’s mercy in their lives, therefore they are always trying to show mercy to others; therefore, God will show them mercy. The logic reminds me of the math theorems we were supposed to prove in algebra. They were so much fun and exciting to do when it flowed from one step to another. If you missed one step, your whole theorem came to a different result. The same idea is true with our understanding of God’s mercy in our lives. The verse says that that if we try and show such compassion to others, we will also be shown mercy. Mercy, mercy? - from whom? From other people? Most of the time, but not always. I am sure most of us have heard or read about good Samaritans being taken advantage of. If we look at the example of Jesus, we find that He did nothing but show mercy and compassion to those He came in contact with, and yet, people crucified Him. He stayed merciful to the end, even when He was receiving unmerciful treatment from others.
But, I think most of us have positive stories to share of others showing mercy toward us. However, I would caution against showing mercy toward others because we expect mercy in return. Show mercy because of having Jesus Christ in your life. Show mercy because your life has been transformed by knowing Jesus as your personal Saviour. Show mercy because, it has become an integral part of your being. Show mercy because God has shown mercy toward us.
Blessed or happy are those who are merciful, because they have understood God’s mercy in their lives and will be shown mercy. They will be constantly trying to show love, generosity and goodwill toward others. They are constantly trying to overcome envy, hate, jealousy, unforgiveness, and unmerciful attitudes toward others.
May God bless each one of us with an attitude of mercy, so others may see Jesus in the deeds that we do. Amen.