Blessed are the merciful
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Matthew 5:7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."


To be merciful has two slightly different connotations. First, we are to be merciful to those who are in need, like the victim in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are to look out for those who are hungry, sick, outcast, unpopular or lonely, and we are to have mercy on them - our mercy will lead naturally to practical help.

Secondly, we are to be merciful to those who have wronged us, even where justice cries out for punishment. This is the opposite to what we see happening all around us in the world, where 'tit for tat' and revenge are the order of the day.

Mercy is a divine quality. It is a characteristic of God himself. Portia described the quality in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice:

"The quality of mercy it not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown. . .
It is an attribute to God himself."

Jesus stressed time and again, as he does here, that it is those who show mercy who will receive mercy. It is not that we can earn God's mercy. Rather, the fact that we forgive is evidence that we have been forgiven by God (Luke 7:47). It is not a bargain with God, but a virtuous circle. When we see how much God has forgiven us we cannot fail to have mercy on others (Matthew 18:23-35).

Those who fall into the category of the first four Beatitudes realize how much they need God's mercy. This is the opposite attitude to that of the fault-finder, who is constantly looking for and dwelling on the faults of others. As we have mercy on others we will become increasingly aware of the mercy of God.


Behind the Greek word is the rich Hebrew term 'hesed', "loving-kindness" (Coverdale's translation used regularly in the RV) or "steadfast love" (RSV).

It is to the merciful that God will show mercy. This principle of reciprocity is seen in other contexts, such as the Lord's Prayer ("Forgive us . . . as we have forgiven," Matt. 6:12) and James 2:13 ("judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful"). This quid pro quo ethic should be taken seriously but not legalistically. Those who are genuinely forgiven cannot help but forgive.


On Matt.5:7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

Even as it stands this is surely a great saying; and it is the statement of a principle which runs all through the New Testament. The New Testament is insistent that to be forgiven we must be forgiving. As James had it: "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy" (Jas.2:13). Jesus finishes the story of the unforgiving debtor with the warning: "So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you; if you do not forgive your brother from your heart" (Matt.18:35). The Lord's Prayer is followed by the two verses which explain and underline the petition, "Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors". "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt.6:12,14,15). It is the consistent teaching of the New Testament that indeed only the merciful shall receive mercy.

But there is even more to this beatitude than that. The Greek word for merciful is 'eleemon' (GSN1655). But, as we have repeatedly seen, the Greek of the New Testament as we possess it goes back to an original Hebrew and Aramaic. The Hebrew word for mercy is 'checed' (HSN2617); and it is an untranslatable word. It does not mean only to sympathize with a person in the popular sense of the term; it does not mean simply to feel sorry for someone ill trouble. 'Checed' (HSN2617), mercy, means the ability to get right inside the other person's skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings.

Clearly this is much more than an emotional wave of pity; clearly this demands a quite deliberate effort of the mind and of the will. It denotes a sympathy which is not given, as it were, from outside, but which comes from a deliberate identification with the other person, until we see things as he sees them, and feel things as he feels them. This is sympathy in the literal sense of the word. Sympathy is derived from two Greek words, sun (GSN4862) which means together with, and 'paschein' (GSN3958) which means to experience or to suffer. Sympathy means experiencing things together with the other person, literally going through what he is going through.

This is precisely what many people do not even try to do. Most people are so concerned with their own feelings that they are not much concerned with the feelings of anyone else. When they are sorry for someone, it is, as it were, from the outside; they do not make the deliberate effort to get inside the other person's mind and heart, until they see and feel things as he sees and feels them.

If we did make this deliberate attempt, and if we did achieve this identification with the other person, it would obviously make a very great difference.

(1)  It would save us from being kind in the wrong way. There is one outstanding example of insensitive and mistaken kindness in the New Testament. It is in the story of Jesus' visit to the house of Martha and Mary at Bethany (Lk.10:38-42). When Jesus paid that visit, the Cross was only a few days ahead. All that he wanted was an opportunity for so short a time to rest and to relax, and to lay down the terrible tension of living.

Martha loved Jesus; he was her most honoured guest; and because she loved him she would provide the best meal the house could supply. She bustled and scurried here and there with the clatter of dishes and the clash of pans; and every moment was torture to the tense nerves of Jesus. All he wanted was quiet.

Martha meant to be kind, but she could hardly have been more cruel. But Mary understood that Jesus wished only for peace. So often when we wish to be kind the kindness has to be given in our way, and the other person has to put up with it whether he likes it or not. Our kindness would be doubly kind, and would be saved from much quite unintentional unkindness, if we would only make the effort to get inside the other person.

(2) It would make forgiveness, and it would make tolerance ever so much easier. There is one principle in life which we often forget--there is always a reason why a person thinks and acts as he does, and if we knew that reason, it would be so much easier to understand and to sympathize and to forgive. If a person thinks, as we see it, mistakenly, he may have come through experiences, he may have a heritage which has made him think as he does. If a person is irritable and discourteous, he may be worried or he may be in pain. If a person treats us badly, it may be because there is some idea in his mind which is quite mistaken.

Truly, as the French proverb has it, "To know all is to forgive all," but we will never know all until we make the deliberate attempt to get inside the other person's mind and heart.

(3) In the last analysis, is not that what God did in Jesus Christ? In Jesus Christ, in the most literal sense, God got inside the skin of men. He came as a man; he came seeing things with men's eyes, feeling things with men's feelings, thinking things with men's minds. God knows what life is like, because God came right inside life.

Queen Victoria was a close friend of Principal and Mrs. Tulloch of St. Andrews. Prince Albert died and Victoria was left alone. Just at the same time Principal Tulloch died and Mrs. Tulloch was left alone. All unannounced Queen Victoria came to call on Mrs. Tulloch when she was resting on a couch in her room. When the Queen was announced Mrs. Tulloch struggled to rise quickly from the couch and to curtsey. The Queen. stepped forward: "My dear," she said, "don't rise. I am not coming to you today as the queen to a subject, but as one woman who has lost her husband to another."

That is just what God did; he came to men, not as the remote, detached, isolated, majestic God; but as a man. The supreme instance of mercy, 'checed' (HSN1617), is the coming of God in Jesus Christ.

It is only those who show this mercy who will receive it. This is true on the human side, for it is the great truth of life that in other people we see the reflection of ourselves. If we are detached and disinterested in them, they will be detached and disinterested in us. If they see that we care, their hearts will respond in caring. It is supremely true on the divine side, for he who shows this mercy has become nothing less than like God.

So the translation of the fifth beatitude might read:

O the bliss of the man who gets right inside other people, until he can see with their eyes, think with their thoughts, feel with their feelings, for he who does that will find others do the same for him, and will know that that is what God in Jesus Christ has done!


Topics: Mercy

Text: The term may designate both character and actions that emerge as a consequence of that character. As a part of character mercy is demonstrated most clearly by such qualities as compassion and forbearance. With respect to action an act of mercy issues from compassion and forbearance; in a legal sense mercy may involve such acts as pardon, forgiveness, or the mitigation of penalties. In each case mercy is experienced and exercised by a person who has another person in his power, or under his authority, or from whom no kindness can be claimed. Thus God may show mercy toward human beings, who are all ultimately within his power, even though they have no direct claim, in terms of their behavior, to attitudes or actions of mercy. And a human being may be merciful to another, to whom neither compassion nor forbearance is due, by free act or thought toward that person.

From a theological perspective the characteristic of mercy is rooted in God and experienced in relation to God, from whom it may be acquired as a Christian virtue and exercised in relation to fellow human beings. In the Bible a variety of Hebrew and Greek words are used which fall within the general semantic range of the English word "mercy." They include such terms as "lovingkindness" (Heb. hesed), "to be merciful" (Heb. hanan), "to have compassion" (Heb. riham), and "grace" (Gr. chris).

In the OT mercy (in the sense of lovingkindness) is a central theme; the very existence of the covenant between God and Israel was an example of mercy, being granted to Israel freely and without prior obligation on the part of God (Isa. 63:7; Ps. 79:8-9). Insofar as the covenant was rooted in divine love, mercy was an ever-present quality of the relationship it expressed; the law, which formed a central part of the covenant relationship, came with the promise of forgiveness and mercy, contingent upon repentance, for the breaking of that law. Yet the divine mercy extended beyond the obligations of the covenant, so that even when Israel's sin had exhausted the covenantal category of mercy, still the loving mercy of God reached beyond the broken covenant in its promise and compassion to Israel.

With the new covenant the mercy of God is seen in the death of Jesus Christ; the sacrificial death is in itself a merciful act, demonstrating the divine compassion and making possible the forgiveness of sins. From this fundamental gospel there follows the requirement for all Christians, who are by definition the recipients of mercy, to exercise mercy and compassion toward fellow human beings (Matt. 5:17; James 2:13).

Throughout Christian history the awareness of the continuing human need for divine mercy has remained as a central part of Christian worship. The kyrie eleison of the ancient church has continued to be used in many liturgical forms of worship: "Lord, have mercy upon us; Christ, have mercy upon us; Lord have mercy upon us." And from the prayer employed in worship for God's mercy, there must follow the practice of mercy in life.

In the religion of Islam, whose historical origins have been influenced profoundly by both Christianity and Judaism, God is most frequently described as "the Merciful, the Compassionate." P. C. Craigie

possible discussion questions:

What is mercy?

What does mercy look like when its lived out?

Will God forgive me if I'm holding a grudge against a friend?