Here is the message and discussion questions from the July 18 message dealing with mercy. This week in our series entitled “Vintage Christianity” looking at the 8 Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-10, we are covering the 5th Beatitude. This 5th Beatitude is found in Matthew 5:7 and like all the rest, is a kingdom of God value that lies directly contrary to the values of this world and the kingdom of man. Of all the imperatives given to followers of Jesus, none appears to be more important than this beatitude. The call of this beatitude occurs times and time again, not only in Matthew 5:7 but all throughout the Old and New Testament.
In Matthew 5:7 we read these words of Jesus, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” This, in my opinion, is one of the most important beatitudes that Jesus spoke, for nowhere do we imitate God more than in showing mercy, as God is defined by his mercy. This morning we are going to define mercy and what the connection is between God having mercy on us, and the mercy that we show on others. We’ll also look at just how countercultural this beatitude is, not only in Jesus time but also in our very own time.
Now the word mercy, among the Jews, those who would have heard Jesus speaks these words, they would have thought of two things: the pardon of injuries and the practice of giving money to handicap people (the blind, the lame, the needy) which is called almsgiving. Jesus however used mercy in the sense of having pain of heart. That something so grabs and tugs at your heart, that you have no choice but to get involved by showing love, forgiveness, grace, and compassion. A merciful man enters into the miseries of his or her neighbor, and feels for them.
But the first place we need to go before we get to our part in being merciful is to Jesus. How do Jesus and God define and live out mercy for us to follow? Each of us needs to realize that we are shown mercy each and every day. Every day of our lives, each hour, and each moment, we partake of his undeserved mercy. All the blessings we enjoy are proofs of his mercy. He doesn’t ask us to show others mercy, without him showing us mercy first. In fact out of the four different ways that are translated mercy in the Scriptures, two of them are used most often in expressing God’s faithfulness, tenderness, and kindness towards us. The other two, by definition, are about the mercy that we are invited to show our fellow humans. There are so many Scriptures that mention God’s mercy towards us. Here are a few that bear this out. Psalm 25:6, “Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.” Romans 9:14-16, “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy.” And one more from Ephesians 2:4-5, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
There are also many times within Scripture that we see the connection between how we react to others with how God reacts to us, especially in the areas of forgiveness and mercy. In this Scripture, it is clear that when we are merciful to others, God will in turn be merciful to us. If we want mercy from others, especially God, then we should take care to be merciful to others. Someone once said, “He who shows mercy to man, God will show mercy to him; but to him who shows no mercy to man, God will show no mercy.” If our goal, our dreams, as followers of Jesus, is to look like Jesus, which it should be, than we are to also show mercy to the poor, the wretched, the guilty. When we show mercy it shows that we are like God, that we have his spirit, and we shall not lose our reward. Those who are merciful are the ones who care and reach out to help those that are in need, without demanding that they deserve such help. God does not distinguish between those who deserve his mercy and forgiveness and those who don’t. All too often however, we do distinguish between those who deserve our mercy and forgiveness and those who don’t. The innocent and lovable….no problem. Our enemies, those who hurt others…more of a problem. I’m not saying that showing mercy to others is easy. In fact, all the beatitudes are difficult to live out, as is following Jesus period. But because Jesus shows us mercy in so many large and small ways each and every day, than if we really want to be like him, act like him, and live like him, than we are called to live out a life of mercy to all.
There is a well known story of Corrie Ten Boom, a prisoner in a German concentration camp, that spells out the meaning of mercy and forgiveness on an enemy or someone that is difficult to show mercy to. After her release, she was traveling through Germany, witnessing to her faith. On a particular night she found herself in Hamburg, giving her personal testimony. She talked about the horrors of concentration camps, the mistreatment, the torture, and the humiliation that she and many others experienced. She talked about her own struggle to forgive those who had humiliated her. At the end of her address, she was standing in front of the little congregation when through that crowd of people she saw a face that caused her to freeze in mid-sentence. It was a face from her past. Much to her horror and dismay he began to walk toward her and flashbacks from the past began to cloud her mind. He was a prison guard at one of the concentration camps. He was more than just a prison guard -- he was the guard over the women's shower. Once a week all of the women in the prison were stripped and paraded through the shower like cattle. He was one of the ones who watched and leered as the women paraded before him. As he walked toward her, all of those memories crowded into her mind. She was then faced with a decision as he reached out his hand and said, "Corrie, can you forgive me?" She reached out her hand in an amazing act of not only forgiveness but of mercy.
She had almost every reason to not accept the man’s hand but because she followed Jesus she showed this man great mercy. She gave mercy to him even if he didn’t deserve it, after all isn’t that what mercy is all about? In fact mercy is not getting what we rightfully deserve. The interesting thing though is how often the culture all around us sees the act of giving mercy as a weakness, but if we look at the story of Corrie Ten Boom we realize that it is one of the strongest things to do.
In Jesus’ time mercy was seen very much in the same way as many in our own world see it. The Romans despised pity. The Pharisee’s were harsh in their self-righteousness. And the Stoic philosophers might offer help in time of need, but they looked disapprovingly of compassion. In one of the best “cheesy” 80’s movie, “The Karate Kid” we hear this philosophy about mercy, “We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak. Here, in the streets, in competition: A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.”
If you show mercy in our own world, people will warn you that you’ll get walked on, taken advantage of, and abused. And sometimes they are right, but that doesn’t mean we should stop offering mercy. Because as our beatitude says we are blessed when we are merciful to others, and because of our mercy to others we will also be shown mercy, from God primarily, but there will be others who will return the favor. And so we see just how countercultural this beatitude is to the values of our world.
And so the world might put the beatitude this way, “Blessed are those who show no mercy, for they will truly be the strong and mighty in the world.” But as we have seen, first of all through Jesus, and then through others who have shown amazing strength through the mercy that they have shared with others, people like Corrie Ten Boom, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, that showing mercy takes a strength that far surpasses the world’s understanding of mercy and strength. We have also seen that mercy starts first with God, in showing us mercy each and every day, and each and every moment. And then in turn, God desires that those who follow him, and call themselves by his name, show other mercy. Then in doing so, those who show mercy to others, will be shown mercy, by God and by others.
But what does it look like to live out a life of mercy to those who we think deserve it, and more so, to those who we think don’t deserve it? What does it mean to you that you are the recipient of God’s mercy each and every day in a variety of ways? It’s those questions that we will explore together in our discussion time.
Here are the discussion questions that we wrestled with together after the message.
- What comments, thoughts, input, insights, questions, disagreements, etc.. do you want to sahre about today's beatitude?
- How have you experienced the mercy of God in your everyday life?
- How have you been a vessel of God's mercy to others in the past week or so?
- How can we as Veritas/as the Church of Jesus Christ, be a vessel of God's mercy to people in our world?
Again, would love to hear your thoughts, comments, etc.. on the message and the discussion. This coming Sunday's beatitude is "Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God."