“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” Matt. 5:7.
The 5th Beatitude has to do with the “merciful.” God promises mercy for all who show it to others. Behind the Greek term is the Hebrew hesed that speaks of God’s “loving-kindness” or “steadfast love.” In its original setting it describes the fidelity of a covenant relationship. God’s hesed is not a surge of emotion but an act of intentional kindness. As used in this beatitude it promises that God will show mercy to all who in their lives have shown mercy to others. One writer calls it a quid pro quo ethic that should be taken seriously but not legalistically.
To be merciful is to withhold what can be called proper retaliation. We recognize that a person who without reason harms another should be punished appropriately. Our entire system of jurisprudence is built upon the principle that harm cannot be dismissed but must be balanced by a proper retaliation. It’s “an eye for an eye,” not more, not less. Few would deny that the approach has been effective in the development of western civilization. But God doesn’t see it quite that way. He is merciful, that is, he withholds retribution (at least for the moment) and expects his people to act accordingly. Life is not an arena for getting even, but the opportunity to withhold retaliation for the benefit of both parties. The wrongdoer is to receive what he doesn’t deserve so that he can become what he has never been. It is love in the courts of ethical growth.
Calvary’s cross have given us the ultimate expression of mercy. The victim (Jesus) should have been shown mercy since the charge against him was false, yet on the cross he extended forgiveness and mercy to those who had him nailed here.. Dying for our sins, his mercy reached out to all who would receive it. Wherever forgiveness is extended we have another illustration of mercy. Even though the offence is real retaliation is not the divine reaction. Rather than getting even God encourages us to extend mercy. That’s what he has done for the entire population of the world, so why shouldn’t we? All too often we relish the pleasure of getting even. But to withhold forgiveness is, as someone put it, like drinking rat poison and then wait for the rat to die.
The text reminds us that it is to those that show mercy that mercy will be shown. It is not that our act of mercy entitles us to receive mercy from God; it is that, in the end, God will show mercy to those who have followed this practice through life.