BEATITUDE FIVE
“Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy”

        In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to forgive freely those who sin against us, in the same manner as our heavenly Father has forgiven us.  Forgive your debtors, he said, even as you have been forgiven for your debts (Matthew 6:12),

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14,15).

        Forgiveness and mercy are characteristics of a disciple of Jesus Christ.  In the first four Beatitudes Jesus taught us that he is our King and we are in his kingdom, because he is merciful. In his mercy, he gives us his righteousness. So, by the grace of God in Christ Jesus we stand before the heavenly Father as dearly beloved children. We are disciples of Jesus, believers in Christ, born again to a living hope. In these next three Beatitudes we learn how a disciple of Jesus relates to his/her fellow men. In the Fifth Beatitude we learn how to imitate the mercy of Jesus. We learn to be the new creatures that we are in him.
        Jesus expressed mercy in the purest manner. Two blind men cried out, “Have mercy on me, Son of David!” 
   
     Jesus asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?"
        They replied, “Yes, Lord.”
        Then he touched their eyes and restored their sight. Despite his admonition not to tell anyone, they spread the news about him all over the region in which they lived (Matthew 9:27-31).
        Again, a Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon begged Jesus to have mercy on her and heal her daughter’s demon possession. Jesus tested her faith by saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
        She persisted. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
        “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
        In this humble manner, she demonstrated her faith and Jesus answered, “Woman, great is your faith! Your request is granted.” And from that very hour, her daughter was healed (Matthew 15:21-28).
        When the father of an epileptic who often fell into fire or water, came begging for Jesus’ mercy on his son, Jesus rebuked the demon and healed the boy. When Jesus’ disciples asked why they could not drive the demon out, he replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:14-21).
        From these examples we learn about Jesus’ mercy toward others. He has also had mercy upon us. He has declared us righteous and is now forming us in his image. As his disciples, he calls us to follow his example. We are to show mercy even as we have received mercy from him.
        One question remains, however. Since the Beatitudes are first about Jesus, how did Jesus receive mercy? When Jesus hung upon the cross, he cried out for mercy, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”—which (in Hebrew) means, “My God, my God, why (have you forsaken) me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Psalm 22:1).  At that moment, Jesus was forsaken by God! He endured the horrible reality of being forsaken by God.
        The full import of this condition is underlined by Jesus’ use of Psalm 22 in his cry for mercy. In that psalm, David is convinced that God has abandoned him. As evidence of this, he points to men who despise and insult him. Huge, powerful men condemn him. He has lost all his courage. He has no more hope. His strength is dried up like a piece of broken clay. His limbs are pierced and momentarily he anticipates a violent death.
       Contrast this scene with Psalm 89 where God promises never to forsake David:

“I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure.
If his sons forsake my law and do not follow my statues,
If they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands,
I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging;
But I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.
I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered.
Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness—and I will not lie to David—that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun;
It will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky” (vv.29-37).

        Considering the promises of this Psalm, in the hours Jesus hung upon the cross of Calvary everything that he knew, believed and taught about his Father was seemingly transgressed. Jesus was the faithful descendant of David. Never even once in his life had he been disobedient or unfaithful. He was the Son of the Father and he had obeyed perfectly all of his Father’s commands. And yet, there he hung, mocked by his enemies, about to die a violent and unjust death. Why? How could this be? Where was the mercy of God?  How could his Holy Father go against his own oath?
        The answer is found in the history of David’s children. In 2 Chronicles 12:1 and 5 we read of David’s grandson Rehoboam: “After Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong, he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the LORD . . .Then the prophet Shemaiah came to Rehoboam and to the leaders of Judah who had assembled in Jerusalem for fear of Shishak (king of Egypt), and he said to them: “This is what the Lord says, ‘You have abandoned me; therefore, I now abandon you to Shishak.’”
        Again in 2 Chronicles 15:1-2 we read about the prophet Azariah’s encounter with Judah’s King Asa. He said, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.”
         So Jesus hung upon his cross, forsaken by his Father, not because he had forsaken or disobeyed his Father, but because he was “pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). He was making atonement for our disobedience. He was our substitute. He became sin for us. This was why he was abandoned and forsaken by his Father. It was for us.
        He did receive mercy. He was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God raised him from the dead, never to decay (Psalm 16:10). Because he lives, we too will be raised to live with him forever.

 

Blessed are the merciful
        Jesus calls us disciples to take up our crosses and follow his manner of life, to reflect his image in all we do (Matthew 16:24). We are called to bear the burden and weight of others’ sins against us, just as Jesus has born our sins upon his cross. And just as we have been forgiven for Jesus’ sake, so we are called to forgive. This is the cross we are to bear, regardless of what losses this may entail.
        Our Lord clarifies what that means in his Sermon as he said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:12). 
   
     Does that mean that we are never to make judgments about others? Quite to the contrary. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers in this manner:

        “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case, you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother, but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).

        Obviously, in order to follow the Apostle’s instructions we must make judgments, particularly about those who claim to be brothers in Christ. So, what did Jesus teach about making judgments and showing mercy? Returning to his sermon, we hear him say,

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).

        He speaks therefore about an attitude, the attitude of a hypocrite versus the attitude of a true believer. The hypocrite is an actor, a pretender. He puts on an outward mask, but refuses to look honestly and humbly at his own sins. His sins are plank-size compared to his brother’s speck of sawdust. On the other hand, if he is aware of the magnitude of his own sins and of God’s endless mercy toward him, he will see clearly when making judgments about his brother and so he will know how to help his brother with his speck-of-sawdust-size sin.
        Jesus provides a simple, yet profound rule of thumb for all of this with his words, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). This rule is called golden, most precious, because it pulls together the entire moral teachings of the Bible.
        The believer is becoming new in Christ. He continually reflects upon everything he is learning from Jesus, as outlined in the first four Beatitudes. He recognizes his own utter dependence upon God’s mercy in Christ. Being true to the presence and power of Christ living in him, he desires God’s mercy and deals with his brother with the same kind of mercy.
        The Apostle Paul teaches the same thing in his letter to the believers of the province of Galatia:

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load” (Galatians 6:1-5).

        Ultimately, we believers in Christ draw not only upon the example of Christ (the Law), but also upon the living presence of Christ within us (the Gospel). Jesus supplies the Holy Spirit. And where the Spirit dwells, there dwells the living and powerful presence of Christ himself. In the warmth and glow of the Spirit, we are able to make God-pleasing judgments. We are able to test everything and everyone. Because we are new creatures in Christ, we are able to hold to the good and avoid every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).

        For they will be shown mercy
        We who die daily with Jesus in baptism receive the same mercy he received when he cried out from the cross. Because of him, we too will rise to eternal life, never to decay. This mercy is ours by faith. We live in it and act out of it toward those around us. We have the mind of Christ. In this manner we “work out our salvation” in the fear of God, for it is God who works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13).

 

 

Copyright ©  2001 CrossTies Lutheran Ministry Resources, Inc.

All Rights Reserved