Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blessed Are The Merciful – SOTM #9

Are the beatitudes merely a series of truisms? Consider, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Isn’t Jesus simply stating the obvious, those who treat others well will be treated well themselves? In a perfect world that would be the case. But then, in a perfect world all would treat each other well; there would be no consideration of doing evil to anyone; there would be no need to extend mercy to anyone. Evil would not exit.

But we live in the kingdom of this world. Evil does exit. It is a world so flawed that one might even be treated ill for having treated someone well. In fact it has often been so. Those who champion the rights of the underprivileged and persecuted often find themselves imprisoned or murdered for their good works.

In this fallen world, mercy is often the only thing that saves the race from annihilation. South Africa, Argentina, and other places in our world could only find their way out of a spiral of recrimination and retaliation through a policy of forgiveness and mercy administered through councils of truth and reconciliation. Those efforts, especially in South Africa, were led by the church. How that must have pleased the heart of God.

Jesus hoped (and still hopes) to plant a kingdom within a kingdom, to seed this unsuspecting and un-God-conscious world with a healing salt that would staunch its bleeding wounds while it awaits the complete healing that will accompany His eventual return. One important characteristic of that kingdom sent from heaven is its love of mercy.

We haven’t said much in our earlier discussions of the beatitudes about the “Blessed-ness” of those who live by the rules of the kingdom from heaven. Many translations use “Happy” instead of “Blessed.” I’m not enough of a Greek scholar to know which word best captures the meaning Jesus intended. Is it possible that both are required to fully describe the beneficial effect of right living? Blessings are generally thought to be benefits gained or bestowed upon one; happiness is the pleasure of receiving and enjoying those benefits.

There must be some twisted pleasure in achieving an eye for an eye; we amass enormous armies and expend millions of lives to extract the eyes of our enemies. But Jesus said there was pleasure and benefit to be had by showing mercy. Can we imagine what those might be? Perhaps the peace of mind from knowing we have not wreaked harm on innocents in our quest to make the guilty pay. Perhaps that we will not need to spill our blood or the blood of our loved ones simply to perpetuate a cycle of eye gouging. Perhaps the ability sleep at night without fear that someone is prowling in the dark, seeking to do to us as we have done to them. Perhaps the joy of having for a friend, one who most certainly would have been an enemy if we had not shown mercy. Perhaps knowing that by showing mercy we will be shown mercy, if not by our enemies, in the kingdom of this world, then for sure when we stand, naked, or in our tattered rags of imperfect righteousness, before the judge of all men.

It isn’t always easy to know when we are living by the rules of the kingdom of this world or by the rules of the kingdom from heaven. The rules of this world are not all bad, and conversely those of the kingdom from heaven are not always unmixed with this-worldly contaminants. But one of the surest evidence that we are citizens of the kingdom from heaven must be our willingness to show mercy.

In one of his dying acts upon this earth Jesus demonstrated mercy. A young man, dying on a cross near his, at first, it seems, taunted him along with another man dying on a third cross, challenging him to show his Messianic powers by saving them all from death. But somehow that one man experienced an epiphany. Amazingly, he saw Jesus, no longer as a common criminal on a cross, but as a future king. He said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus, forgetting the abuse of the previous hours, seeing only the faith of the man, mercifully said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Our words of mercy can be, as those of Jesus were, an invitation to enter the kingdom from heaven, to enjoy the only paradise we can know on this earth.

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