The people Jesus congratulates are those who show mercy. They are the one who will receive mercy from God (Matthew 5:7). This is not new. King David recognises that God has mercy on those who show mercy (Psalm 18:20-25).
People who need mercy are in trouble. They may be desperate. They may be the reason for their own problems. But people who show mercy see beyond this and give what they can to help. They have been gentled by mercy and know that God does more than expect everyone to ‘do the right thing’.
Jesus is often showing mercy to needy people. In this Gospel, two groups of blind men cry out for mercy (9:27; 20:30-31). A distressed father kneels and ask for mercy for his sick son (17:15). A foreign lady cries out persistently and kneels to ask for mercy for her sick daughter (15:22). And Jesus helps them all.
Some call Jesus ‘Son of David’—Israel’s promised deliverer. They may know the promises God has made to send a Messiah who will act mercifully. So, showing mercy is important for Jesus, and for us who belong in his kingdom.
Our tendency is to expect justice and forget mercy. But while we’re doing this, God is upholding us, being kind to us, generous to us. He’s not asking if we are worthy. He’s just seeing us as needy people and reaching out to help. Jesus didn’t come to help people who think they are righteous. He came to help sinners (Matt. 9:13: 12:7).
Pleasing God, means doing what is right, and loving mercy (Mic. 6:8). God himself reveals his justice by having mercy on us (Isaiah 30:18). And this is what he is doing when Jesus dies for our sins (Romans 3:25).
If all we want is for things to be ‘right’, we lose our way, and our peace, and God’s mercy. And if we think someone is not worthy of our attention, we’re thinking legally, not mercifully.
Jesus makes an issue of this in a story he tells (Matthew 18:21-35). A man badly in debt pleads not to be sold as a slave, and promises to find the money. Instead of this, his creditor forgives the whole debt. But then, this forgiven man demands payment of a very small sum from someone else.
When the first creditor hears of this, he runs the ungrateful man off to jail. Jesus tells this story to warn us. If we don’t forgive others as we have been forgiven, we have not understood forgiveness. Effectively, we’ve not been forgiven. The results of being without mercy are severe.
But this story isn’t just a warning. It tells us that mercy doesn’t begin with us. Jesus is among us. He is going to reveal and secure God’s mercy to us (Luke 1:77-78). He simply asks us to acknowledge the compassion we’ve received and to share the mercy with others.
On four occasions in this Gospel, Jesus explains to Pharisees that they should offer mercy to the needy rather than parade their performance. Twice, he quotes God’s word. ‘I desire mercy rather than sacrifice’.
Perhaps we need mercy from God for our legal mindset (Matt. 23:23). And certainly, all of us need to know that we have not deserved anything we have received. Without Jesus as Lord, we also would be lost and hopeless. We need to know how pitiable we are. And then we say—with all God’s people, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David’.
This is the way that our life becomes beautifully uncomplicated. And Jesus says we should be congratulated!