blessed are the merciful…

kathyescobar healing, incarnational, jesus is cool, spiritual formation 5 Comments

Painted heart* this is the 5th in a series of posts centered around the beatitudes.  the other ones so far are: blessed are the spiritually poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, and blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

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“blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy…” – matthew 5:7

i sometimes tell people “grace is my love language.”  and it’s really true.  that’s not on the 5 love languages list, but there’s no question it’s my #1.  the more grace and mercy i receive from people around me, the more loved i feel & the more i am drawn toward them.  the less mercy i feel, the harder it is on my soul & the more likely i am to move the other direction.

yeah, mercy is compelling.

in the beatitudes, Jesus is reminding us of core practices, attitudes, and leanings-toward-people-and-the-world that are guiding principles of kingdom living.  through each of these attitudes and actions, a fruit or outcome results.  when we are spiritually poor, we see the kingdom of God.  when we mourn, we receive comfort, etc.

Jesus says that the merciful will receive mercy back.  later in the scriptures Jesus also quotes hosea 6:6, that God desires “mercy not sacrifice.” i am more convinced than ever that as human beings we are far better at sacrifice than mercy.  we know how to follow rules, tow the line, and somehow stay in the lines of “right behavior.”  what we aren’t so great at is mercy.

here are some synonyms for mercy:

compassion, forgiveness, generosity, gentleness, goodwill, grace, kindness, relief, softheartedness, sympathy, tenderness, tolerance.

and here are some antonyms:

cruelty, intolerance, meanness, uncompassion.

religion has stripped a lot of mercy out of how we follow God & replaced it with sacrifice. it makes me think of the story of the good samaritan and how the religious leader was too focused on “religious” things and kept walking while the samaritan man, the one on the margins who held all the wrong beliefs, was the one who stopped and offered mercy & compassion to the wounded man on the side of the road.

one current example of this in action that’s so obvious is the typical response to homosexuality & the church.  instead of stopping and caring and erring on the side of mercy, the side of sacrifice is elevated above all, leaving carnage all over the place.  and look who’s stopping to pick up the wounded on the side of the road:  the outcasts, the fringers, the ones-who-will-risk-their-reputations-and-even-their-lives to care about the hurting.

Jesus was known for offering mercy to those who weren’t used to receiving it.   in fact, over and over, he was ridiculed by the law-abiders for the grace and mercy he offered.  it was an abomination to them, the people he touched, the ways he healed, the mercy he passed on to the unclean.  it’s also my favorite part about Jesus.

to me, mercy is the essence of being a Christ-follower. i do not think Jesus’ intention and hope for us was that we’d be known as the people in town who spent all our energy concerned with laws, rules,  and who-was-doing-what-right and who-interpreted-the-scriptures-this-way-or-that-way.  when i read the gospels i see wild stories of Jesus continually passing on mercy to the desperate, the messy, the broken, the needy, the humble, the spiritually poor, the willing.

i need mercy each and every day; mercy is a beautiful gift that God passes on to us.  i cling to lamentations 3 & the hope that even though i continually screw up a long list of things, God’s mercies are new every morning.   years ago, when i was first starting to reckon with pain from my past, i remember how harsh and cruel i constantly was to myself.  unforgiveness was rooted deep in my heart; i couldn’t offer mercy to myself and certainly couldn’t fully receive God’s mercy either.  the result–i was mean to other people, too.   we pass on to others how we feel about ourselves; subtly or directly, it always leaks out.

this beatitude, in my opinion, is core to living out our faith.  mercy is a healing balm to wounds.  it fills in the cracks, helps people stand on more solid ground, brings wind underneath people’s wings, dissipates shame, and sets people free.  mercy transmits a message of love & compassion.

the world does not need any more cruelty, meanness, or uncompassion.  oh, we all know there’s enough of that to go around already.  but i do believe our world, our cities, our neighborhoods, our churches, our communities, our families, our own hearts, are in desperate need of mercy, kindness, and compassion. people who listen.  people who stop and shore up wounds.  people who restore hope.  people who forgive.  people who look others in the eye and say “yeah, i struggle, too.”  people who let go and trust God-at-work instead of feeling like the world will fall apart unless they speak “the truth”.   people who have tasted mercy in their own lives.

i know what it feels like when i intersect with some of the opposites of mercy.  it hurts.  it devalues.  it belittles.  it disempowers.  it shames.  it makes me think of what maya angelou says:  “people will forget what you did, people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

i don’t think Jesus espouses a feel-good religion.  the beatitudes are far from that, each one in and of itself is extremely difficult and challenging in actual practice.  but i do believe that mercy is compelling and brings with it a spirit of love & hope that is desperately missing in the unforgiving, harsh, and cruel systems we often live in.

God, may we be people and communities who generously pass on mercy, and freely receive it, too.  help us be conduits of your kindness and compassion, the most likely to care and the least likely to judge.

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ps: i am leaving today for a family vacation for my son’s college spring break–a caribbean cruise with just jose & i & all the kids–no computer, no cell phone, no work for a whole week, yeah!  i can’t wait. we planned this 3 years ago when jose graduated from law school & never went because of our nutty schedules.  it’s my first time traveling in 6 months & i’m hoping my back will hold up okay. i just need to make it through my flight & then i’m home free…

also, here are a few other things to check out:

ps:  darkwood brew did a recent series on the beatitudes. i haven’t had a chance to watch them but they look great  also, check out the beatitudes society. they are doing some beautiful work on behalf of peace & justice & mercy.

ppss:   i wanted to let you know about a fun project i was a small part of called banned questions of the bible by christian piatt, published by chalice press and releasing this month.  here’s the video trailer & an excerpt from one of the questions here: