Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. (Matthew 5:7)
Sometimes, in the midst of our best intentions, we miss the entire point. In our world, there are so many voices constantly telling us that we have something to prove. Entire advertisement campaigns are based on our “need” to have this item or that so that we can be the best. And we have become so practiced at justifying everything about ourselves, that we have begun to feel entitled to all that we have. We have, as we said last week, often become self-righteous and we become indignant when we feel denied our chance at retribution or appropriate compensation. We have an overdeveloped sense of our own rights, completely ignoring the needs of others.
This is what Jesus means when he often says throughout the Gospel of Matthew that he desires mercy not sacrifice. Christ is not referring to the kind of sacrifice that Christ himself and so many others have offered up throughout human history – giving themselves over to bring freedom at the cost of blood. No, Jesus is referring to this self-righteous, over-pious, religious entitlement when we give something up in order to gain favor, or to get ahead, or to look like the perfect “martyr.” Every one of us has done it at some point. We demand our own way, expect to be given our due, and focus entirely on our own rights.
What happens to us when we give in to life in this way? We get angry, and resentful, and even hateful, to a point that to give up our anger would mean that we would have to surrender our entire reason for living. That is no life – it makes us shells, ghosts, mere shadows of ourselves walking through this world looking for our next anger-fix.
Life is meant to be lived in relationships. And, as any friend, parent, spouse, or sibling will tell you, relationships require a lot of things. Most of all, relationships require mercy. There are many synonyms for this word – compassion, kindness, love. The Greek word used for mercy in this and other passages, eleos, has a particular connotation that we will not pick up in English. It has a connotation of pouring something out – like the pitcher of water we empty to remember our baptism every week; like the blood that was shed so that we may find new life in the midst of a shade-filled world. Mercy is something we give with abandon, expecting nothing in return.
When we find the courage to no longer be ignorant of the pain around us, and realize the great compassion our God has shown to us, there is no path ahead available to us other than kindness, other than mercy. We who have known God’s own mercy in our lives, who have eyes opened to the world’s suffering, who have found the strength to stand with the oppressed, who refuse to give into hatred and self-righteousness because they are just wrong – we are called to have the same heart that Christ does. Rather than focusing on self-indulgent sacrifice, we are called to pour out our hearts like a abundant offering. Our lives are to be ones full of mercy. We are mercifully forgiven so that we might become slaves to one another. My prayer for us is that we will remember what God has told us, mercy begets mercy.