Gentled by mercy

Gentled by mercy

The people Jesus congratulates are those who show mercy. They are the ones who will receive mercy from God[1]. This teaching is not new. King David has already recognised that God will have mercy on those who show mercy[2].

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 himself often shows mercy to needy people. In this Gospel, two groups of blind men cry out for mercy[3]. A distressed father kneels and ask for mercy for his sick son[4]. A foreign lady cries out persistently and kneels to ask for mercy for her sick daughter[5]. And Jesus helps them all.

He has compassion on the crowds because they are leaderless[6], or sick and hungry[7].

In seeking mercy, 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[8]. 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 doesn’t come into the world to help people who think they are righteous. He comes to help those who are undeserving[9].

God has already shown Israel that he wants them to do what is right, but also, to love mercy[10]. He doesn’t just teach this. He shows it in how he treats them[11]

And, of course, this is what God is doing when Jesus dies for our sins (Romans 3:25). If anyone has had reason to complain, it is Jesus. He is misunderstood, maligned and nailed to a cross. But he endures being the focus for all our hatred of God. And he expresses the mercy of God for us sinners.

He can truly say, ’Father forgive them’. He knows we don’t understand the love of God, don’t know how far our pride has taken us from being warm and real. Not yet, anyway. When he is ‘lifted up’, he will draw us to himself, and to God. And then, the mercy of God will create mercy in us.

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[12]. 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[13]. He simply asks us to acknowledge the compassion we’ve received and to share it with others.

On three occasions in this Gospel, Jesus explains to Pharisees that they should offer mercy to the needy rather than parade their performance[14]. Twice, he quotes God’s word. ‘I desire mercy rather than sacrifice’[15].

Perhaps we need mercy from God for our legal mindset. 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. This is when we truly say, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David’.

This is the way that our life becomes beautifully uncomplicated, and attractive—like our Saviour’s. And Jesus says we should be congratulated!

[1] Matthew 5:7

[2] Psalm 18:20-25

[3] 9:27; 20:30-34

[4] 17:15

[5] 15:22

[6] 9:36

[7] 14:14; 15:32

[8] Luke 1:68-72

[9] Matt. 9:13: 12:7

[10] Isa. 1:17; 58:6-10; Hos. 12:6; Mic. 6:8

[11] Isaiah 30:18

[12] Matthew 18:21-35

[13] Luke 1:77-78

[14] 9:13; 23:23

[15] 9:13; 12:7