Matthew 5:1-12 — Blessed Are the Merciful — You Cannot Be Truly Merciful Unless You Get Off the Couch!

Posted: September 26, 2015 in 40-Gospel of Matthew, The Beatitudes

Matthew 5:1-12 — The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word, mercy, is fights with my brother when I was kid. Back then, to outsiders, it might have seemed that we hated each other, but I think it was just competitiveness. We tried to outdo each other at everything. We were only a year and half apart in age so we were right there together as far as physical development goes. So, we competed fiercely with one another over EVERYTHING. It didn’t matter. Everything was a competition. As you might imagine, as competitive as we were, it would lead to major conflict. A simple basketball game between the two of us could degenerate into a brawl within seconds. If we ever got the other pinned down or vice versa and during those moments the heat of anger would begin to pass and the one who was pinned and could not figure a way out of it would have to say, “mercy”. It was the humiliation of all humiliations to have to say, “mercy” cause it meant that you were defeated. You let yourself get into a pickle you could not get out of. Oh, the shame! And with the claim of mercy came victory to the winning brother. Oh the pride! That is often our perception of mercy today as well. When we think of mercy, we think of letting up and not going in for the kill. Mercy is to let someone off the hook. In little league sports and I think in some high school sports, there is a mercy rule where if the game is so out of hand at a certain time point in a game, they call the game. It’s over at that point. It is humiliation for the team that is getting beaten badly. I use to hate that when I was on the winning team because it cut our game short. I wanted to finish the domination. So, mercy, is almost an unwanted characteristic in our world. So, why does Jesus say, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy.”?

Before we dive into this beatitude, let’s have some definitions. We must understand what the word, “merciful” means. Most English dictionaries define mercy or merciful as “In English “mercy” is normally used to mean showing compassion, forbearance, pity, sympathy, forgiveness, kindness, tenderheartedness, liberality or refraining from harming or punishing offenders or enemies.” These synonyms give us some insight on this word; they all express how a merciful person might act. However, none of them specifically pictures what biblical mercy is, because the scriptural concept is virtually untranslatable into a single English word. William Barclay says it best in his Daily Bible Study commentary when he says:

It does not mean only to sympathize with a person in the popular sense of the term; it does not mean simply to feel sorry for some in trouble. Chesedh [sic], mercy, means the ability to get right inside the other person’s skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings.

Clearly this is much more than an emotional wave of pity; clearly this demands a quite deliberate effort of the mind and of the will. It denotes a sympathy which is not given, as it were, from outside, but which comes from a deliberate identification with the other person, until we see things as he sees them, and feel things as he feels them. This is sympathy in the literal sense of the word. Sympathy is derived from two Greek words, syn which means together with, and paschein which means to experience or to suffer. Sympathy means experiencing things together with the other person, literally going through what he is going through. (p. 103)

So, biblical mercy is different from our worldly thoughts about mercy like I think of when me and my brother used to fight or like when a team pulls all its starters in the third quarter when playing an outmatched opponent. It is more than showing compassion, pity or sympathy or tenderheartedness. It is more than letting up when you could rightfully destroy someone. It is a call to action. It is a call to get off the couch.

To have mercy for others is a call to action. Earlier this week, we were having conversations about wealth and poverty and how living simply on our part will allow us to (1) live within our means, (2) be generous, and (3) enable us to go and meet needs. It is one thing to throw money at a problem and bury your head in the sand and think that you have addressed a problem. Certainly, yes, we need generous people to give generously to the fights against poverty, injustice, slavery, and a host of other social ills as we discussed in the last few posts. However, we are called as Christ followers to do more than write a check. We are called to be in the trenches. We are called to be merciful in the sense that William Barclay defines it. It means experiencing things together with the other person. How can we be merciful if we do not feel the desperate hunger of a child in a third world country? How can we be merciful if we contribute to causes because it is one of regular bills in our inbox? Hands and feet on the ground lead to true mercy. How can you understand the plight of the urban ghetto black male if you don’t go to the ghetto and experience life with him firsthand? How can we understand here in the South how hard the spiritual soil is up in the Northeast unless we get on the ground in Manchester, CT and see how people respond to genuine love and caring? I am preaching at myself here too friends. I, just like you, can find ourselves getting so busy with our own lives that we fail to see the needs around us. That was the overwhelming thing that came out of our life group meeting on Wednesday night as we had our second session on the book by David Platt, Counter Culture. That theme was we are privileged by God to have allowed us to be born in this country. God did not put us here to be self-involved and to live off of 105% of what we make and get so wrapped up in our world of debt and things. God did put us here to be merciful. He put us here to use to be generous with the blessings that He has given us. He put us here to go and show mercy. We must go. We have been privileged. Help us Lord not to abuse the privilege and to live way beyond simply into the realms of excess and excessive debt. Help us to be a merciful people!

To have mercy for others is to understand others’ situations from the inside out. In order for us to understand, we must go. We must get off the couch. We must jump in feet first into the world outside our comfort zone. It means that we must get dirty. We need to get to know people. We need to understand their situation. We need to get inside their lives and see the world as they see the world. It is only then that we can understand. It is only then that we can be merciful. To use a light-hearted situation, think about Elena and I. We are a house divided. She is a University of South Carolina Gamecock fan (her daughter is a graduate) and I am a Clemson University Tiger fan (have been since I was a little kid and, as well, my oldest daughter is a graduate). Before I met Elena and all her Gamecockery, it was easy for me to dislike the Gamecocks and their fans. However, after living with a Gamecock these years, I have come to realize that I can no longer demonize all Gamecock fans. I know one. I live with one. It made me realize that Gamecock fans are people too. Even though their mascot is a chicken, they deserve love, and respect. This is a simplistic example and it’s about sports and so ultimately does not solve any of the world’s problems but it does show us the way. It is easy to demonize that which you do not know. It is easy to be emotionally distant from that which you do not know personally. It is easy to walk away from that which you do not have an investment in. As James tells us in the New Testament, it is easy to walk by someone sitting on a street corner begging for food and tell them that you will pray for them. That’s easy. To get down on the ground and sit with this person and try to help them make sense of their lives and help them get back on their feet, that is mercy. That is getting dirty. That is getting real. We talk a lot about the problems in what we call a godless society and mourn what is happening. Yet, we show little mercy. We do not get out in the world and show the love of Christ. We do not get out in the world and show people that we care. We do not by and large do anything other than bemoan. We as Christ followers on average only contribute 2% of our income to our churches. We as Christ followers do very little volunteer work. We as Christ followers do very little to flesh out the ministries of our churches. We as Christ followers have to begin to be more merciful. Having mercy means getting out of my comfort zone. Having mercy means getting dirty. Having mercy means taking on the qualities of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He was out in the street. He did not wait in the synagogues for the world to come to Him. He went to the world. He healed people where they were at. He walked the towns and villages proclaiming the kingdom and demonstrating it through His actions. Merciful Jesus.

May we heed mercy’s call to action. May we heed mercy’s requirement that we go beyond the couch and take it to the streets and put people, faces, and names to the problems of this world and grow compassionate hearts to do something about because it has a face and a name!

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