The Upside Down Life #10 – Blessed Are the Merciful, For They Shall Receive Mercy; Pt. A

by Peter Anderson

Introduction:

Millions of people were gathered before the Throne of God. Some of the groups near the front talked heatedly and were belligerent. “How can God judge us, they asked?” God is in heaven where all is beauty and light, what does He know about suffering snapped a cynical woman. As she stood she rolled back her sleeve revealing a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. We were tortured, humiliated, torn from loved ones, until only death gave release. What about this said an angry black man, Lynched for no other reason other than being black. We were enslaved, beaten, wrenched from loved ones, only death gave us freedom. Across the plain there were thousands who had similar complaints against God for the suffering they experienced on earth. So they decided to form a committee, each person was selected from their groups because they suffered the most. The committee met in the middle of the plain, they decided that before God could judge them he had to live on earth as a man. They set certain safeguards so that in times of trouble He could not use his divine power to escape. Each of the 10 got up to pronounce their portion of the sentence: 1. Let him be born a Jew 2. Let his birth be so questionable that no one would really know who his father really is 3. Let him try to communicate something no one has ever seen or heard, let him try to communicate God. 4. Let him champion a cause so great that people will call him mad or lunatic. 5. Let him be betrayed by one of his closest friends, let him be abandoned at his greatest time of need by all he loved. 6. Let him be condemned by the religious leaders. 7. Let him be sentenced to die by a cowardly judge. 8. Let him be humiliated and tortured. 9. Let him die like a common criminal and buried in a borrowed grave. 10. Let his name live on forever that in moments of rage men would use it as a common curse word.

As each pronounced their portion of the sentence loud murmurs of approval came from the crowd. When the last pronounced his sentence no one made a sound, no one dared to move. When the last pronounced his sentence they all knew, God had already served the sentence.

Mercy is not a popular notion in our society, though it fascinates it.  Big Idea:  As Christ was merciful to us, we are to be merciful to others.

Literary Context:

The beatitudes contain several allusions from the OT. In the comparison passage, found in Luke 6:20-23, many of these beatitudes are not repeated. Luke spends a lot of time announcing blessing to the poor, the hungry, the mourning, and the persecuted; he has a broader audience primarily of Gentile Christians who have been taught about Jesus. Matthew’s gospel is directed toward fellow Jews, persuading them that Jesus in the Messiah who is available to all nations; Matthew adds several beatitudes: blessed are the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers

The Sermon on the Mount has also been likened to the 5 books of the torah. “Jesus on a mountain” is a common theme in Matthew calling to mind Moses receiving the law on Sinai; only Jesus is not Moses but is the “new” and better Moses. Far from establishing a new law, Jesus came to fulfill and thus transcend the Mosaic covenant.

Historical Context:

One of the ways we see how Jesus transcends Moses and other leaders, is that he immediately begins his sermon with blessing. In the Ancient-Near East (ANE), life was dominated by the need to cope with terrifying threat of omens and curses (think of Salem, MA in Halloween). In ANE, if you were at enmity with another person, you usually gave them a curse and if you think someone may curse you, you just cursed them to protect yourself. It was believed that once you uttered a curse, the gods were obligated to perform your demands. All one needed to do was perform a certain ritual and prayer (exactly as written) and then the curse would be performed against the one cursed. In ANE, a curse was “power-laden” to the people’s superstitions and they were on edge. Blessings were also powerful, but they didn’t dominant that society in the same way and people didn’t have the same conviction that a blessing, once invoked, would be realized. Most of the liturgy sought to revoke and reverse the curse. Yet, here comes Jesus, and he begins his ministry: blessed, blessed, blessed.

Definition of Mercy:

KJV has “blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” ESV and NAS have “they shall receive mercy.” Most versions have will be shown mercy–almost all versions put it in a future tense (Think eschatology). Mercy will not always be “paid back” when you’re merciful. It is best to translate “merciful” as pertaining to being concerned about people in their need, compassionate, or having the sympathy/empathy of God. Manuscripts also include “people” and “toward everyone.” Therefore, this is not a message for Christians being merciful to Christians but a message pertaining for everyone listening.

Jesus shows mercy in 5 ways in this context:

1.  Healing the sick (ch. 4:23-25)

In this passage, Jesus cured many illnesses. Pains fled at his touch or simply by the speaking of his word. The Son of God was going forth to war and destroying the works of the devil, teaching and preaching, casting out demons and healing sicknesses by the power of the Spirit, healing both people’s souls and bodies, and establishing the kingdom of God on earth (Matt. 12:28). Jesus is teaching his disciples that he’s not only reversing the work of Satan, he’s healing the “worst of society.” In Greek culture, people who were sick were often judged as being unfaithful. Today, Christians are not immune to this thinking. Christians will often believe that others who have depression, anxiety, or fear do so because they’ve been judged. Jesus is reversing that thinking and displaying the unifying principle of mercy.

2.  Reconciliation (5:21:-25)

In this passage, believers were being asked to do what was humanly impossible: love their enemies—the very thing God did for mankind through the incarnation of his Son. This passage is commanding believers to be as consistent and generous toward people as God is, who causes his rain and sun to shine on the just and unjust. Jesus emphasized inner conformity to the spirit of the law rather than mere outward conformity to the letter of the law. The true requirements of the Law were highlighted to convict listeners of their need to turn to Jesus, the one true source of righteousness.

3.  Vengeance: (5:38-41).

The “eye for an eye” and “tooth for a tooth” principle is part of the widespread ancient Near Eastern law of retaliation. In Israel and other cultures, this principle was enforced by a court and refers to legalized vengeance; personal vengeance was never accepted in the law of Moses, except as a concession for a relative’s murder (Num 35:18–21). The Old Testament did not permit personal vengeance; David, a great warrior, recognized this principle (1 Sam 25:33; 26:10–11).

The blow on the right cheek was the most grievous insult possible in the ancient world (apart from inflicting serious physical harm), and in many cultures was listed alongside the “eye for an eye” laws; both Jewish and Roman law permitted prosecution for this offense. A prophet might endure such ill treatment (1 Kings 22:24; Is 50:6).

The robe here was considered so indispensable that when taken as a pledge, it had to be returned before sunset since it served as a cover during sleep. Jesus is saying that we have no right to hate the person who tries to deprive us of our possessions. Love toward him should fill our hearts and reveal itself in our actions. Jesus is saying is that rather than to reveal a spirit of bitterness or retaliation (eye for eye) the Christina shows mercy by caring his burden with joy.

This is merciful because it conveys what God has done to us. We retaliated against God for several years, some for several decades. As a Father, God was grieved by our sin, our rebellion, and our nature and yet, rather punish us, he saves/d us. Jesus asks us to do something very small: give someone a cloak if he asks and if he asks you to carry something for one mile, go two instead. The point is not mathematical per say, but blessing people with mercy should go above and beyond just the physical act.

Mercy is Emotional and empathetic

As noted, the biblical meaning of mercy is exceedingly rich and complicated. Many Hebrew and Greek words are needed to comprehend the many-sided concept, offering synonyms such as “kindness,” “loving-kindness,” “goodness,” “grace,” “favor,” “pity,” “compassion,” and “steadfast love.” Prominent in all these words is the compassionate disposition to forgive an offender or adversary and to help or spare him in his sorry plight.

In the NT a very descriptive Greek word is used for Jesus’ mercy toward the needy (Mt 9:36; 14:14; 20:34). It expresses his pity and compassion by means of an intense verb literally translated “to be moved in one’s bowels.” The Hebrews regarded the bowels (heart) as the center of the affections. Our Lord is described as being fervently moved in his inner-being and offering benevolence toward the needy and acting to relieve their suffering.

4.  Love for enemies (5:43-48)

‘Love your enemies’ is undoubtedly the invention of Jesus’ own mind, and it stands out as fresh and unforgettable. ‘Love your enemies’ is not advice for the Stoic who must remain even tempered in the face of a fickle world but involves intense emotion. Jesus is not offering us prudent wisdom. Jesus does not promise that love will turn enemies into friends as many in the postmodern church often seek out. Rather, Jesus is calling for a ‘love which does not depend upon some-thing.’ ‘Loving your enemies’ seems to contain what may have been a novel demand: do good to the enemy, despite the circumstances and the results. This is related to mercy because offering love toward someone is rooted in giving it to someone who cannot “pay you back.”

Governor Neff, of Texas, visited the penitentiary of that state and spoke to the assembled convicts. When he had finished he said that he would remain behind, and that if any man wanted to speak with him, he would gladly listen. He further announced that he would listen in confidence, and that nothing a man might say would be used against him.

When the meeting was over a large group of men remained, many of them life-termers. One by one they passed by, each telling the governor that there had been a frame-up, an injustice, and judicial blunder, and each asking that he be freed. Finally one man came up and said, “Mr. Governor, I just want to say that I am guilty. I did what they sent me here for. But I believe I have paid for it, and if I were granted the right to go out, I would do everything I could to be a good citizen and prove myself worthy of your mercy.” This, of course, was the man whom the governor pardoned.

5.  Reframing from judging others (7:1-3)

Finally, mercy involves reframing from judging others. “Sinful” judgment is a hypocritical judgment. A hypocrite is often guilty of the very sins he condemns and blind to his own because he is preoccupied with another’s offence. Such self-righteousness, says Jesus, is like ignoring your own “plank” for a “speck of sawdust.”

Mercy does not judge because the recipient has been forgiven by a greater judge. God law is humbles us here because sins committed against him is greater than a sin committed against you. “Don’t judge” does not mean “don’t think.” John Stott remarks that the phrase, “Don’t judge” is not a requirement to be blind, but rather a plea to be generous. Mercy takes into account the equality of both parties: you and the person you’re dealing with. Every form of “sinful” judgment is when someone internally places himself on a “more deserving plane” than the other. Blessed are the merciful, for they see themselves on the same playing field.

Concluding story:

“Revelation” opens in a doctor’s waiting room where Ruby Turpin is waiting with her husband, Claude. As she often does, Mrs. Turpin passes the time by categorizing the other waiting-room inhabitants by class—“white trash,” middle class (like her), and so forth. This is the segregated South, so there are no black people here, but Mrs. Turpin is happy to judge them, too.

She identifies a pleasant-looking woman as one of her own class, and they begin an idle conversation that centers first on their possessions and eventually on their disapproval of civil rights demonstrators. They conclude that it would be a good idea to send all black people back to Africa. During this conversation, the other woman’s daughter, Mary Grace, an obese college student with severe acne, has been making faces directly at Mrs. Turpin. At last Mary Grace cracks entirely, throws her book (Human Development) at Mrs. Turpin, and then physically attacks her. When Mary Grace has been subdued, Mrs. Turpin begins to think that the girl has a message for her, and when she moves closer, Mary Grace calls her a warthog and tells her to go back to hell where she came from.

Later, at home, Mrs. Turpin is deeply shaken by the message. At last, while hosing down the hogs, she questions God about why he sent her such a message when there was plenty of “trash” in the room to receive it. His answer comes in the form of a vision of people marching to Heaven, a procession led by all the people she has most held in contempt. The vision fades, and Mrs. Turpin returns to the house in the midst of a cricket chorus of hallelujahs. Critics have disagreed about the meaning of the end of this story, but Mrs. Turpin’s serious acceptance of the violent message of grace and the imagery of the ending seem to suggest that her vision was a gift of mercy that has clarified her vision of the world, its people, and her possessions.

Conclusion

What we need is a revelation that we are equal in the eyes of God. Christians further the kingdom when they live in that existential honesty: about themselves and their neighbor.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

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