February 2, 2020
Westminster by the Sea Presbyterian Church
Radford Rader, D.M.
Last week, it was blessed are the meek; this week it is “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.”
A king had a large orchard. He had a great variety of fruit trees planted there. He employed a skilled gardener to take care of the fruit trees. The gardener picked the ripe and juicy fruits each day. Every morning, when the royal court was in session, the gardener would take a basket of fruit to the king.
One day the gardener collected some cherries for the king. Already in a bad mood, the king picked a cherry and popped it into his mouth. It was sour, which caused the king to vent his pent-up anger upon the poor gardener. He threw a cherry at the gardener and hit him on the forehead.
The gardener responded with, “God is merciful.”
The king enquired, “You must be hurt but you say, “God is merciful.”
The gardener said, “Your majesty, I was going to bring pineapples today, but I changed my mind. If you had thrown a pineapple at me, I would have been badly hurt. God is merciful for having changed my mind.”
We can make light of mercy, but it is the very essence of God. In Exodus 34:6 we hear for the first time the refrain that runs throughout the scriptures: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” God need not care about us. God need not do us good. God need not seek us out and forgive us. We may wonder why “in God’s great mercy, we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (I Peter 1:3). Yet that is the love of God. God’s grace gives us what we don’t deserve; God’s mercy does not give us what we do deserve. To be merciful is to imitate God, to act like God, to live as God wishes all people to live.
Mercy is not easy. It goes against our grain for we are not always gracious. We are quick to act in anger and vengeance, wanting what we think is justice and to see anyone who has done wrong squirm and suffer, particularly if that person has wronged us. The more normal behavior is that of the servant in Jesus’ parable who is forgiven much by his master and then turns around and nails another who owns him little. Mercy is hard because to be merciful we must deny ourselves and identify with the other person, want for them what is good, want to redeem them so that they have wholeness. To do such necessitates that we know that we are forgiven, not because we deserve it or even because we have sought it but because God in God’s mercy has already given it to us. The merciful are those who have allowed the mercy of God to penetrate the very core of their being. We are not to be merciful so we can be forgiven or out of fear that we won’t be forgiven but we are to be merciful because we are forgiven. Mercy is always something we pay forward.
Mercy in Matthew is more than forgiveness; it includes compassion. Two blind men ask Jesus for mercy (9:27). The Canaanite woman sought mercy for her daughter (15:22). The father of the boy with the demons begged for mercy (17:15). Jesus shows compassion and heals their diseases. When he saw the crowd, Jesus had compassion upon them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (9:36). Mercy is shown in compassion to others in need. Compassion is an attitude of sympathy, where one feels sorry for another; mercy is when compassion becomes action. Mercy does something. The Greek word for mercy is “eleos”, the word for almsgiving is from the same root. Helping the poor, assisting those in need, giving food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, visiting the sick, these are acts of mercy. J.M.DeMattheis wrote, “Any time, any of us reaches out, any time we pour even a drop of love, compassion, simple human decency…into the sea of earthly existence—we are, each and every one of us, the being called mercy.” Mercy does not stand above with concern, sympathy and empathy, it gets down into the gutter where the man who has beaten beaten and robbed is lying, does first aid, puts him in one’s own car, takes him to a hospital, stays with him and pays for it all—At least that’s how Jesus described the one who had mercy to his neighbor.
We may not be merciful as we should be, but we know when we see it. We saw it displayed in a courtroom this year. Brandt Jean stepped into the dock to offer testimony in the sentencing phase of Amber Guyger’s trial for killing his brother while he stood innocently in his own apartment. He did not ask the judge to through the book at her although he believed she was guilty. He saw a broken woman and he chose mercy, even at the expense of his family’s gasping disapproval. He requested of the judge an unusual ruling, that he be given the opportunity to step down and hug the convicted Amber. It was granted and we saw them fall tearfully into each other’s arms and heard him whisper to her, “I forgive you.” If we are merciful, we give compassion and forgiveness whenever and to whomever it is needed.
Mercy is a blessing upon the one who receives mercy. It offers them a way to wholeness and life. It is also a blessing upon the one who is merciful for it removes from within a person the hardness of heart that will eat them up and lock them out of the kingdom. Portia speaking to the vengeful Shylock in The Merchant of Venice still speaks beautifully and accurately
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath
It is twice blessed: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
As Jesus’ said, “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful!”