When I say the word, “mercy” what do you think of?
Maybe it is a pardon at the last minute, an act of kindness to someone undeserving. Perhaps it is extending forgiveness to someone who is “unworthy.” What about giving a jacket, a warm meal, or even acknowledging someone begging on the street?
As we continue though our series on the Beatitudes, we see that each attribute goes deeper and deeper into our heart. I see them as building blocks. We will not be able to stand for what is True (and face the backlash), if we are not meek, or know how to show mercy. To understand the heart of the Beatitudes is to acknowledge that is a process only God can do. We cannot grit or hustle our way to a pure heart. We cannot merit our way in or be good enough. Sure, we can act like we are kind, just, loving, etc. But God knows our hearts. He knows our motivations. He knows if we are doing it to merit praise from others or appear “Christian” enough, or if we are doing it because our lives have been emptied before Him and we have nothing left to pretend with.
At every point in the Beatitudes we have the choice whether to live from our own energy or to surrender to God’s. Don’t forget, these attitudes are “the nature and the aspirations of citizens of His kingdom. …There is no escape from our responsibility to desire each one of these spiritual attributes” (Guzik). Like so many things in our life of faith, it is a daily, momentary choice to not reach for control or try to perform, but to let God use us as a conduit.
The simple reality is we cannot give what we do not have. We cannot truly give mercy if we have not received it. As we look at the next two Beatitudes, remember that each one takes us closer to the heart of God.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for” (The Message).
Mercy: compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm (Google dictionary). Compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence (Dictionary.com).
Ultimately, the foundation of our faith is mercy. It is the continued extension of love and a return towards people who have rejected and cast aside every gift offered. God is perpetually showing compassion and forgiveness towards those who do not deserve it.
Just as being poor is spirit is recognizing our inability to save ourselves, to merit grace, to earn our way into heaven, so being merciful starts with our recognition that we have been shown eternal mercy. It is to be “emptied of our pride, “ as David Guzik says. “(It is) to receive the grace of meekness and to become gentle.” It is realizing that real power comes from not trying to gain the upper hand, not avoiding what is hard, holding onto grudges, or making it all about me. True mercy is looking at all I have been forgiven of and then extending that mercy to others.
Jesus tells the story of a man who was forgiven a tremendous debt. For the sake of this post, let’s say he owed the combined net worth of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. He is in the hole – a lot! There is no amount of work, investments, time, etc. that would enable this man to pay back the estimated $300 billion (with a B) he owes.
The man who holds his debt calls him up. Time is up. Pay me what you owe. The man asks for mercy – give me time. I will get the money! The man not only gives him time, but forgives his debt! The debtor’s record is marked clean.
The man goes out and encounters a man who owes him a few thousand dollars. The man tells the second to pay him his money! When the second asks for more time the first has him arrested for his debt and imprisoned until it is paid off.
Blessed are the merciful for they will obtain mercy.
The first man, forgiven a debt we cannot even fully fathom, refused to show mercy to a man who owed him a day’s wages. When the man who forgave the original debt heard about the man’s action, he had him imprisoned until he could pay back his $300b debt. The man’s unchanged heart led to his being imprisoned and tortured.
To judge someone else, to refuse compassion, to overlook the poor, to refuse to admit the truth because it is hard, to refuse to give up some of our power to others, to pretend we have a leg up because of our race, to not hear the cries of the hurting because it makes us uncomfortable, all of that reveals that we, like the man, do not understand what we have been forgiven from.
All sin is ultimately rooted in pride. It was pride to be like God that compelled Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. Pride pushed Cain to kill his brother. Pride made the Pharisees unable to see who was right before them. Pride keeps us believing we can do any of this on our own or that we are better than others.
But to understand the mercy shown, to understand that we are saved by a grace that wiped out a $300b debt, that took on powers and pain no action movie can replicate (sorry Thanos), is to, in turn, show mercy to others.
To understand God’s mercy towards us enables us to extend mercy to others. We live out of the gratefulness of what we have received. To be saved is not to be made perfect. To be saved is to be forgiven, and to exist out of that gratefulness as we live and interact with others.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world” (MSG).
“…For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”Luke 6:45b
For a very long time I lived with a very cold heart. I lived with a heart that was quick to judgment, cold against other people, and had a hard time seeing the good in others. We tend to think that we can protect ourselves from pain. But the reality is that we also cut ourselves off from joy, hope, love, etc. We cannot selectively choose what emotions we feel. And if the heart is the source of all, what we do and say, what we believe and champion, is a reflection of the condition of our heart.
God promises to take our heart of stone and turn it into a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). He promises to breathe new life into us. To take our wounded being and make us new. To be pure of heart is to be “freer from the pollutions of covetousness, oppression, lust, and chosen deception.” (Guzik).
To be pure of heart is to know in your marrow that God is your only hope. Psalm 73 speaks of the contrast of those who trust in themselves vs. those who are pure of heart.
Purity of heart gets at motivations. It gets at intention. It gets at what is driving us. Some people can paint a pretty exterior, but underneath is a rotting engine. Listen to what a person says and how they treat those around them. To be pure of heart is to see God everywhere – in nature, in community, in pain and injustice, in good and hard situations. To be pure of heart is to see God in every person – meaning that injustice done anywhere is really the ill-treatment of God’s creation. And to those whose heart is pure, it moves them to mourn, to not cling to their own way, to be merciful, to sit with the discomfort and cry out for God’s justice.
As we will see next week, nowhere does The Bible say that if we seek God and strive to live as He commands that life will be free of struggle. In fact, the opposite is true! Jesus repeatedly tells people that to truly follow God is to expect opposition. Paul writes the same throughout his letters. One commentary for 1 Corinthians asks, “If the devil isn’t coming after you, could it be you are not in the game at all?” But as we will highlight next week there is a Grand Canyon of difference between being called out because you are a jerk and being persecuted because you are living a Christ-centered life.
One clear distinction: if none of the Beatitudes are present in your life, or if you are fighting to preserve your way of life or get your way, or you don’t care about who you are leaving in your wake to grab power, you are probably not being persecuted for your faith.
I leave you with the words of Spurgeon:
“Christ was dealing with men’s spirits, with their inner and spiritual nature. He did this more or less in all the Beatitudes, and this one strikes the very center of the target as he says, not, ‘Blessed are the pure in language, or the pure in action,’ much less ‘Blessed are the pure in ceremonies, or in (clothing), or in food;’ but ‘Blessed are the pure in heart.’