blessed are the merciful…

Painted heart* this is the 5th in a series of posts centered around the beatitudes.  the other ones so far are: blessed are the spiritually poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, and blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

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“blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy…” – matthew 5:7

i sometimes tell people “grace is my love language.”  and it’s really true.  that’s not on the 5 love languages list, but there’s no question it’s my #1.  the more grace and mercy i receive from people around me, the more loved i feel & the more i am drawn toward them.  the less mercy i feel, the harder it is on my soul & the more likely i am to move the other direction.

yeah, mercy is compelling.

in the beatitudes, Jesus is reminding us of core practices, attitudes, and leanings-toward-people-and-the-world that are guiding principles of kingdom living.  through each of these attitudes and actions, a fruit or outcome results.  when we are spiritually poor, we see the kingdom of God.  when we mourn, we receive comfort, etc.

Jesus says that the merciful will receive mercy back.  later in the scriptures Jesus also quotes hosea 6:6, that God desires “mercy not sacrifice.” i am more convinced than ever that as human beings we are far better at sacrifice than mercy.  we know how to follow rules, tow the line, and somehow stay in the lines of “right behavior.”  what we aren’t so great at is mercy.

here are some synonyms for mercy:

compassion, forgiveness, generosity, gentleness, goodwill, grace, kindness, relief, softheartedness, sympathy, tenderness, tolerance.

and here are some antonyms:

cruelty, intolerance, meanness, uncompassion.

religion has stripped a lot of mercy out of how we follow God & replaced it with sacrifice. it makes me think of the story of the good samaritan and how the religious leader was too focused on “religious” things and kept walking while the samaritan man, the one on the margins who held all the wrong beliefs, was the one who stopped and offered mercy & compassion to the wounded man on the side of the road.

one current example of this in action that’s so obvious is the typical response to homosexuality & the church.  instead of stopping and caring and erring on the side of mercy, the side of sacrifice is elevated above all, leaving carnage all over the place.  and look who’s stopping to pick up the wounded on the side of the road:  the outcasts, the fringers, the ones-who-will-risk-their-reputations-and-even-their-lives to care about the hurting.

Jesus was known for offering mercy to those who weren’t used to receiving it.   in fact, over and over, he was ridiculed by the law-abiders for the grace and mercy he offered.  it was an abomination to them, the people he touched, the ways he healed, the mercy he passed on to the unclean.  it’s also my favorite part about Jesus.

to me, mercy is the essence of being a Christ-follower. i do not think Jesus’ intention and hope for us was that we’d be known as the people in town who spent all our energy concerned with laws, rules,  and who-was-doing-what-right and who-interpreted-the-scriptures-this-way-or-that-way.  when i read the gospels i see wild stories of Jesus continually passing on mercy to the desperate, the messy, the broken, the needy, the humble, the spiritually poor, the willing.

i need mercy each and every day; mercy is a beautiful gift that God passes on to us.  i cling to lamentations 3 & the hope that even though i continually screw up a long list of things, God’s mercies are new every morning.   years ago, when i was first starting to reckon with pain from my past, i remember how harsh and cruel i constantly was to myself.  unforgiveness was rooted deep in my heart; i couldn’t offer mercy to myself and certainly couldn’t fully receive God’s mercy either.  the result–i was mean to other people, too.   we pass on to others how we feel about ourselves; subtly or directly, it always leaks out.

this beatitude, in my opinion, is core to living out our faith.  mercy is a healing balm to wounds.  it fills in the cracks, helps people stand on more solid ground, brings wind underneath people’s wings, dissipates shame, and sets people free.  mercy transmits a message of love & compassion.

the world does not need any more cruelty, meanness, or uncompassion.  oh, we all know there’s enough of that to go around already.  but i do believe our world, our cities, our neighborhoods, our churches, our communities, our families, our own hearts, are in desperate need of mercy, kindness, and compassion. people who listen.  people who stop and shore up wounds.  people who restore hope.  people who forgive.  people who look others in the eye and say “yeah, i struggle, too.”  people who let go and trust God-at-work instead of feeling like the world will fall apart unless they speak “the truth”.   people who have tasted mercy in their own lives.

i know what it feels like when i intersect with some of the opposites of mercy.  it hurts.  it devalues.  it belittles.  it disempowers.  it shames.  it makes me think of what maya angelou says:  “people will forget what you did, people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

i don’t think Jesus espouses a feel-good religion.  the beatitudes are far from that, each one in and of itself is extremely difficult and challenging in actual practice.  but i do believe that mercy is compelling and brings with it a spirit of love & hope that is desperately missing in the unforgiving, harsh, and cruel systems we often live in.

God, may we be people and communities who generously pass on mercy, and freely receive it, too.  help us be conduits of your kindness and compassion, the most likely to care and the least likely to judge.

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ps: i am leaving today for a family vacation for my son’s college spring break–a caribbean cruise with just jose & i & all the kids–no computer, no cell phone, no work for a whole week, yeah!  i can’t wait. we planned this 3 years ago when jose graduated from law school & never went because of our nutty schedules.  it’s my first time traveling in 6 months & i’m hoping my back will hold up okay. i just need to make it through my flight & then i’m home free…

also, here are a few other things to check out:

ps:  darkwood brew did a recent series on the beatitudes. i haven’t had a chance to watch them but they look great  also, check out the beatitudes society. they are doing some beautiful work on behalf of peace & justice & mercy.

ppss:   i wanted to let you know about a fun project i was a small part of called banned questions of the bible by christian piatt, published by chalice press and releasing this month.  here’s the video trailer & an excerpt from one of the questions here:

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

5 Comments

  • We desire mercy from Jesus, yet sometimes struggle to give it to our neighbor. Reminds me of a parable Jesus told.

    Should this not be a hallmark of a follower of Jesus? “Compassion, forgiveness, generosity, gentleness, goodwill, grace, kindness, relief, softheartedness, sympathy, tenderness, tolerance.” Yet my friends so often report that they have experienced “cruelty, intolerance, meanness, uncompassion” when dealing with people who describe themselves as Christians. This is religion run amuck.

    I hear the religious people describing the cruelty, intolerance, meanness and uncompassion as “telling them the truth”. Interestingly, when the “them” label the Christians as hypocrites upon hearing of affairs, pornography addictions and so on, the Christians become enraged. “I’m sick of them calling us hypocrites. We’re all human. We all sin.” I am quoting what I heard just this week. Apparently it’s o.k. for Christians to sin, but when those who don’t even claim to follow Jesus live in ways Christians don’t approve of, Christians must tell the truth, and in the process be mean and cruel?

    A few years ago we were with a group of friends who are not followers of Jesus. I don’t remember what I said, but apparently it made at least one person decide I must follow Jesus, to which he blurted “You can’t be Christians. They’re mean and nasty. You like us.” Everyone in the group agreed.

    What the world needs now is mercy, the mercy of Jesus as shown by us. The world doesn’t need or want any more cruelty, intolerance, meanness and uncompassion which are poorly disguised as “truth telling”.

    Hope the cruise is great and that your back does well. I am doing better in spite of a couple of setbacks. The weather has been great here. At least I can sit in the sun and read, so I’ve got a good tan for March. Its a great place to go to college.

    Reply
  • I like what Sam wrote. It’s interesting to me how the religious will look at the victim of abuse and tell them they have to suck it up and show mercy and forgiveness – without the abuse ever being addressed – – – especially if the abuser is a member of the church. But be so harsh and unmerciful to those who don’t go to church. It seems to be all about external appearances and what club you belong to.

    I was at a church service Thursday night – new church just starting with a woman pastor. She talked about how we have to be ‘in your face’ to sinners and ‘tell the truth’. At one point (and she even reiterated it when she prayed at the end) she talked about how we need to not be afraid to be obnoxious to sinners. And I cringed inside. She was talking specifically about ‘homosexuals’ and how we have to be obnoxious to them. Sigh. I’ve known a lot of gays. Why do we need to get in their face and be obnoxious to them? Where does the idea come from that if we don’t, we are ‘condoning sin’?

    Hmm… thinking. Maybe I need to find some mercy within myself for the religiously correct…

    Reply
  • “the world does not need any more cruelty, meanness, or uncompassion”
    There are places in my world that keep me from moving to a remote island where there are only animals…my family, friends, and The Refuge. These are places of love, kindness and mercy. Sanctuary. I want to learn how to better give these things to others as well as receive them.

    Reply
  • i’m back, had a great trip, so happy to be together with just us for a week & now it’s back to reality….

    sam – yeah, it’s always so funny to me when people are like “hey, wow, you’re a nice christian”, like it’s some big anomaly and a huge surprise. that is so sad. it would make me so happy if over time people associated “mercy” with “christian”. it will be interesting how history unfolds…

    katherine
    – that is so hard for me to hear, that somehow we’re supposed to be “obnoxious”….the problem i have with that is the carnage that ensues. the hurt it creates. the shame and ugliness it perpetuates. what if the message was we’re supposed to be “merciful, kind, compassionate” and focus on our own log in our own eye….ah, but it’s much easier to focus on the speck. thanks for sharing, love from across the hills….

    mary – so pretty. thank you for sharing. thank you for being a person that provides sanctuary for others. it’s lovely.

    Reply
  • Hey Kathy, thank you so much for your blog. I am preaching a series on the Beatitudes and have enjoyed your perspective very much. I am taking what might be a different approach on “merciful.”

    Could “merciful” be different than pity and compassion? Could “being merciful” mean some act of love in that is totally unexpected…an act of love that simply doesn’t sense?

    Pity generally doesn’t involve action; compassion is action but it is an action that is expected in some sense. For example, it is compassion when one makes a donation to a to Red Cross following Katrina. Most of us can show pity and most are very compassionate; but is mercy as common?

    Just sharing…

    Thank you for you…

    Breathe Peace,

    Marty

    Reply

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