Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)
Mercy is probably the most useful tool in our Gospel of Welcome toolbox, but perhaps the hardest to find. Believe me, we’re going to be pulling this one out every day. The reason for this is: we are all naturally judgmental. Passing judgment comes much more easily to us than showing mercy. It’s the natural reaction to pass judgment on your fellow human beings; it’s supernatural to be merciful.
The opposite of mercy is judgment. Mercy is not easy for me. My whole character leans toward judgment. When you grow up learning to be a Pharisee in the company of Pharisees, it’s hard to shake the tendency to judge others first, ask questions later.
Just yesterday, Marti, Chandler and I were doing some back-to-school shopping for Chandler when we noticed a large group of women taking a yoga class on the lawn in the middle of the outdoor mall. I mentioned something to Marti about how silly they looked, fully expecting her to share a little laugh with me over it. Instead, she rebuked me by pointing out that: 1) they were not all women — there were some men in the group — and 2) if I think they look silly, I should try it, and show us all how silly I would look trying to do the same thing. Ouch!
This is the ultimate embodiment of Christian hypocrisy: to sit on the sidelines and judge everyone who is participating.
Being judgmental takes no effort. Everybody’s already guilty, so help yourself — there’s plenty more sin and stupidity where that came from; in fact, we’ll never run out of stuff to judge.
Since everybody’s already guilty because of sin, to be judgmental is like taking an unnecessary step. The truth judges us. Our deeds judge us as they reveal our sinful nature. And on top of all this, we are all judged already on the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus says in the gospel of John that when we accept the gift of salvation He offers, we are judged already. This whole process is already over and done with.
This is why I think Jesus purposely put this backwards in this beatitude. He knew we would eventually find this out. We find out what mercy is all about when we find out what it takes to love and forgive us, jerks that we are. You don’t go muster up a bunch of mercy so God will be merciful to you. You become merciful when you realize what it took for God to be merciful to a scoundrel like you.
You can’t be merciful without God being merciful to you, and God’s mercy to you means nothing until you realize how badly you need it. This is where we learn mercy. We learn it from God. The gentleman I wrote about in yesterday’s Catch who didn’t point out my flaws without also mentioning his own, was being merciful to me. He was handing me something he had received through his own process of walking with God.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Does that mean that if you aren’t merciful you won’t get any mercy? No. It means that if you aren’t merciful, you wouldn’t know mercy if you saw it.