verse V – the beatitudes – matthew 5:1-12
In Matthew 5:7, Yeshua/Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
What exactly is mercy?
The word picture created by mercy from the Hebrew language, רַחוּם, “rachum,” is a mother or father picking up a crying child into their arms or lap, and giving them comfort; deeper still, mercy is the womb – the place of comfort, care and protection provided by the entire body of the mother.
In modern usage, mercy and kindness are often used somewhat interchangeably. This, however, is not the meaning of mercy as noted above. Another Hebrew word, חֶסֶד, “chesed,” does express the entwined characteristics of mercy, kindness and love as a threefold cord in action. While kindness is included in the act of mercy, mercy is deep empathy for another who was/is stricken by misfortune or in a position of vulnerability. The one walking in mercy sees, feels and then does something about the need – often placing their entire body into the remedy. Mercy, unlike charity, can be shown to rich and poor alike.
What is Godliness?
In earlier articles on the Sermon on the Mount, we have considered: poverty of spirit, mourning the human condition before God, meekness, and a hunger and thirst for righteousness. So why is mercy placed here?
In Luke 6:36, in a parallel telling of the Sermon on the Mount often referred to as the Sermon on the Plain, Yeshua commands us, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father is also merciful,” (cf. Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:8). Yeshua is speaking of imitation, ordinarily a negative trait in the western mind, yet, in the Jewish community, then and now, imitation is seen as the highest form of devotion to one’s rabbi or mentor.
Yeshua is directing us to imitate the covenant Lord in our everyday life; to demonstrate “God-like-ness” even as difficult or impossible as that may seem (Lev. 19:1; cf. Deut. 28:9; 1 Cor. 11:1). A merciful “faith-style,” as opposed to lifestyle, is often our first real test as disciples of Messiah Yeshua.
How does the inward knowledge of “godliness” translate to real life? Do we honor the Lord with our lips while our hearts are far from Him? Do we have a “form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5)? Are we able to be merciful, even when we have been wronged? Can we be merciful to those stained by the filth of life (James 1:27)?
I recall, as a child, my first real taste of mercy – apart from that obviously shown by family and friends. During summer vacation after sixth grade, some neighborhood friends and I decided to build a treehouse in the woods; with several construction sites on our street we decided to visit the dumpsters to get some supplies. Over a weekend we worked diligently to build an awesome treehouse – but we were soon discovered by some very unhappy construction works, who accused us of stealing. We all ran home scared out of our minds, thinking that we were going to be arrested at any moment – the great treehouse bandits – but mercy was extended to us, as the owner of the construction company was a friend of the family, who said that his employees overreacted.
The owner of the company had the power to pursue any avenue of resolution he desired – but he chose to extend mercy.
Many more compelling examples of mercy, godly mercy, can be drawn from life, particularly, to my mind, from the lives of organ donors, who literally show mercy with their body – mercy resulting in life.
No Ordinary Godliness.
Godliness in the eyes of many is going to church, giving charity, being a nice, kind, or gentle person, etc. However, in light of Yeshua’s words on mercy, we are confronted by this thought – how much of the covenant Lord’s qualities do we really want to imitate? Where is Yeshua leading us? John 15:13 or Romans 12:1, perhaps?
How do we respond when people have let us down terribly? When people have hurt us deeply? When people have spread rumors about us? Do we desire to cause them a lifetime of guilt; or to receive justice for our injustice? Would this be a display of godliness?
We are unable to be merciful until we have first recognized our impoverished condition before the Lord. Mourning that condition, we are then able to endure criticism and even hostility without offering a defense, which then causes us to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Recognizing our position, our natural position, then inspires us to assist those waiting for and in need of rescue. From this place, we demonstrate godliness through mercy. This is not a position of weakness, or a philological pacifism, as we will see later in the Sermon, but a position of faith in the Lord Who will see to a just end to all injustice (Ro. 12:17-19).
Godliness, imitation of God, is walked out in mercy, love and kindness – the deep empathy for and stooping to the human other. Godliness is, in the deepest sense, showing others the mercy that God has shown us – the condescending God who stooped to us upon Sinai (Ex. 20) and in the person of Yeshua (Jn. 1:14) – Emmanuel. This outworking of mercy into the lives of those around us is evidence of our inward condition – as extending ourselves in acts of mercy truly is placing our body into the commandments of God (Jn. 15:14).
We extend mercy because it has been extended to us in innumerable ways – gratitude keeps that mercy in a place of prominence in our hearts and minds. All of us know what it feels like to be in need, and to long for the comfort of others. God is merciful, and He asks us to be so as well. Mercy is being willing to get down on the ground with someone, to meet them where they are, in order to help them recover from the damage of sin – just as Messiah did for us. Therefore, we must learn to forgive, give and not condemn.
Shalom. Be well.