Picture Jesus sitting on the mountainside with the multitudes all around him as he taught them. I can easily imagine children running here and there as parents try to both keep up with where the kids are and focus on the words of Jesus. This was near the beginning of his ministry so they didn’t know as much about him as they would in time. Now it was amazing to them to hear his voice and the power with which he spoke. They would later declare that he was different than all the religious teachers they had heard before since he spoke with authority and not like the scribes and Pharisees of the day. I wonder what his voice sounded like. But it wasn’t the sound of his voice or the method of his speaking that made the difference. No one ever said anything about his strong voice or his ability as a speaker. It always had to do with the actual message, his amazing stories that reached for their hearts and the compassion he had for all the people that made the difference. He had already looked out and spoke the encouraging words that those who were poor in spirit were blessed with the kingdom of heaven. He had declared those blessed who were broken in grief and spoken comfort to the gentle or meek telling them they would inherit the earth. He pronounced a blessing on those who were hungry for God and for being right with God.
Then he said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” What is mercy anyway? Mercy is grace with legs on it. It is compassion in action. Mercy is active, rather than just feeling with the ones who are hurting and struggling in life, they get involved in serving and doing to help them in their struggle. It is amazing to watch someone who is really gifted with mercy. In Romans 12:3-9 when Paul laid out the different spiritual gifts that one might have as a member of the body of Jesus, one of those gifts was “Showing mercy”. He said if one had the gift of showing mercy then do it with cheerfulness. In this statement, he laid out one of the inherent dangers one has in showing mercy to others. It is very easy to show mercy and then complain about how hard it is to help those who are hurting all the time. Mercy always works best when done with love, care and with a smile. It is God’s intent that we recognize the act of mercy toward a hurting or struggling person as a blessing from God. James said if we showed mercy toward others then God would show mercy to us but the one who didn’t show mercy to those around them wouldn’t find mercy from the Lord either. What is interesting in the statement from James 2 is the context in which the statement about mercy was found. It was while talking about someone coming into the assembly of the church who was poor and people saying to them to sit somewhere inconspicuous while someone comes in who is wealthy and they offer them the best seat in the house. How we treat those with less, who are different or who may not be popular demonstrates our sense of mercy.
Yesterday we have the privilege of visiting with family back in Alabama. One of my sisters is going through some tough times in her life, dealing with dementia and lots of other health issues. It was amazing watching her granddaughter work with her and take care of her. As she cared for her and answered her questions, which were usually the same ones she had asked a few minutes before, it was always with extreme kindness and with a cheerful attitude. What made it all the more interesting was that the granddaughter was getting over surgery on her foot and was still having some difficulty getting around herself. But her focus seemed to be totally on her grandmother.
Mercy begets mercy. I certainly believe this means our being merciful brings mercy from God, but it is a principle that runs through human nature as well. One of the aspects of life that I’ve seen play out over and over again is the person who is full of mercy with others tends to have that same kind of mercy returned to them when they are hurting or struggling in life. If one finds it near impossible to feel with others in their hurts, it seems that others tend to have the same reaction toward them in their times of stress or trouble. I wonder how many times through the years I’ve had someone complain that they had been sick or had problems and no one seemed to reach out and visit or even check on them. It never seems to dawn on them that others all around them have gone through similar things all through the years but they never had the time or interest to do anything to help them in their times of need.
We live in a world of hurt. Sometimes we become callous toward the hurt because so much is said about hurts and struggles all over the world. We see scenes of people starving in faraway places asking for money to be sent. Then there will be a scene about animals, usually dogs that are hungry and neglected to ask for you to send money to take care of them. Immediately afterward there will be an ad for “Wounded Warriors” that we need to send money to. Often we see those needs dramatized to the degree that looking around us to see people in our family or church family that need help or even children in our area that need someone to get involved in their life, seems less exciting and somewhat mundane.
Mercy works best when demonstrated to people we can touch. It does the most good when it involves more than just sending money. It changes us and makes us more into the people God calls us to be when it is done with and for others, we can see and help on a regular basis. Mercy like so many other aspects of heart and life needs to be fed to remain healthy in our lives. The more we can walk through life caring for no one except ourselves the more starved mercy becomes in our life until we have the hardest time actually feeling for anyone besides yourself.
No one ever demonstrated mercy in their lives like Jesus. When he saw hurting or hungry people his heart went out to them. He was always ready to head to the home of a soldier, a tax collector or a religious leader if someone there was in need of his help. He was ready to risk his life to go back to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. Even with the cross looming before him, he thought of the disciples and bowed to wash their feet. When the mob came to arrest him, he healed Malchus whose ear Peter had cut off with a sword. While dying on the cross in horrific pain he ministered to a thief hanging on the cross beside him, offering him forgiveness and a home in paradise with him that very day. The more we become like Jesus the more mercy will be fundamental to our life and character. God bless the merciful.