By Julia Wallace
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Here we reach the fifth of the eight blessings Jesus offers in the Beatitudes. Although each is rich and instructive in its own right, when viewed together the Beatitudes paint a rich picture of what a life committed to Christ will look like. It is significant, therefore, that this call to mercy comes directly after Jesus promises that those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied.”
Biblical ‘righteousness,’ also translated ‘justice,’ is the concept of setting things right. It is the reorientation of the world to the way God intended it to be—a world in which people are reconciled to God and one another (2 Cor. 5:18-21). Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—for reconciliation—will find it.
So how does mercy connect to righteousness? Jesus leaves no ambiguity in Scripture: there can be no reconciliation, to God or one another, without mercy.
Mercy is a call to compassion; it is to see another’s pain and distress and to extend relief. Throughout Scripture we are told that our mercy to others, including our enemies (Luke 10:36-37), is what bears witness to the heart of God (Luke 6:36) and unites us to one another. But mercy is a difficult thing, and as is often true of Jesus’ commands it is much easier said than done. We live in a world that tells us to avoid pain at all costs. We live in a world that tells us to delight in our enemy’s suffering. In Lebanon—a country divided along sectarian lines with deep historical wounds—showing mercy is particularly challenging. It’s so much easier to turn a blind eye to others’ needs when our own are piling up. It’s much more satisfying to seek vengeance and retribution than it is to offer forgiveness and aid.
Yet in this blessing on the mount Jesus reminds us of a sobering fact: there is a correlation between God’s mercy to us and our mercy to others. It is not that we can merit God’s mercy through our own efforts; rather, when we show mercy to others we reveal that we have been touched and transformed by God’s mercy in our own lives. As John Piper so succinctly put it, “Mercy comes from mercy. Our mercy to each other comes from God’s mercy to us.” Mercy is a product of our faith.
But mercy is also a practice of our faith. It is a difficult and countercultural task, but God repeatedly calls us to exercise mercy towards one another through service and sacrifice. Though God’s Spirit empowers us to be merciful, He also calls us to continually choose mercy. This is true worship; this is true praise (Matt. 9:13, Hosea 6:6).