‘Mercy’ is compassion for people in need. We can distinguish it from ‘grace’. The Greek noun eleos (mercy) … always deals with what we see of pain, misery and distress, these results of sin; and charis (grace) always deals with the sin and guilt itself. The one extends relief, the other pardon; the one cures, heals, helps, the other cleanses and reinstates.
Jesus does not specify the categories of people he has in mind to whom his disciples are to show mercy. He gives no sign whether he is thinking primarily of those overcome by disaster, like the traveler from Jerusalem to Jericho whom robbers assaulted and to whom the good Samaritan ‘showed mercy’, or of the hungry, the sick and the outcast on whom he himself regularly took pity, or of those who wrong us so that justice cries out for punishment but mercy for forgiveness. There was no need for Jesus to elaborate. Our God is a merciful God and shows mercy continuously as a citizen of his kingdom I must show mercy too.
I want mercy in my life. Compassion is a wonderful gift from God. I am challenged by Jesus to replicate it in all of my relationships. I am to be a person of mercy. It will bring me happiness and mercy in my own life. Now that is some very good news.
Fortunate (aka Blessed) are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Of course the world (at least when it is true to its own nature) is unmerciful, as indeed also the church in its worldliness has often been. The world prefers to insulate itself against the pains and calamities of men. It finds revenge delicious, and forgiveness, by comparison, tame.
But those who show mercy find it. ‘How blest are those who show mercy; mercy shall be shown to them’ (NEB). The same truth is echoed in the next chapter: ‘If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you.’ This is not because we can merit mercy by mercy or forgiveness by forgiveness, but because we cannot receive the mercy and forgiveness of God unless we repent, and we cannot claim to have repented of our sins if we are unmerciful towards the sins of others.
Nothing moves us to forgive like the wondering knowledge that we have ourselves been forgiven. Nothing proves more clearly that we have been forgiven than our own readiness to forgive. To forgive and to be forgiven, to show mercy and to receive mercy: these belong indissolubly together, as Jesus illustrated in his parable of the unmerciful servant. Or, interpreted in the context of the beatitudes, it is ‘the meek’ who are also ‘the merciful’. For to be meek is to acknowledge to others that we are sinners; to be merciful is to have compassion on others, for they are sinners too.
We have great examples from our Master Jesus, the Messiah.
- Matthew 9:36 (NASB) — Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.
- Hebrews 2:17 (NASB) — Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
- Matthew 8:16 (NASB) — When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill.
- Hebrews 4:16 (NASB) — Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.