Matthew 5:7 NRSV
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
Adam Hamilton tells us of Christ’s first words from the Final Words from the Cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23) and suggests that this prayer was not meant only for those who were responsible for his suffering and death, but all of us, to and from all eternity. These words, Hamilton claims, are an extension, perhaps an ultimate culmination, of teachings shared by Christ, including the promises, set forth in the beautiful parallel poetry of the Beatitudes, which include the intriguing statement about mercy.
Some interpreters of this passage – “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” – talk as if it is a conditional proposition, where the consequence of merciful action is mercy for the merciful at some future time, perhaps the time of some final judgment, a reward, a payback. I suspect, however, the statement is somewhat richer than a pronouncement about an incentive to be merciful – it is a value statement about the intrinsic value of merciful acts. To show mercy is, simply, good. To be merciful is to be blessed, to add to the beauty of creation. In the midst of the torrent of evil at the time of the Crucifixion, Christ was adding with his prayer to the beauty of the world, and giving us an example of how beauty can be created in the direst of circumstances. And how will the merciful receive mercy? We are blessed by our participation in the co-creation of beauty in the universe, an unfinished canvas on which each of us can make brushstrokes by bringing goodness into existence.
But what does it mean to be merciful? We can surely think of a thousand ways, but Savannah poet Aberjhani, author of The River of Winged Dreams, prays thus: “Love, Mercy, and Grace, sisters all, attend your wounds of silence and hope.” To ask for the forgiveness of others, to be even considering the welfare of others, as Christ was in the midst of the agony of the cross, is an amazing incarnation into the universe of these three beautiful Sisters, each unique but all of the same stock of God’s goodness. I wonder if, while the theologians and religious leaders spend time counting the angels on the head of a pin, and creating definitions and formulae for how we ought to behave in the world, Jesus would have us, arm in arm with the three Sisters, and simply follow his lead.
And who really deserves mercy and forgiveness? Perhaps all of us. Perhaps none of us. As Irish author Sebastian Barry put it, “It strikes me there is something greater than judgment. I think it is called mercy.”
Prayer: Lord, let our hearts open up to the possibilities before us, that we might walk arm in arm with Love, Mercy and Grace, and do our part to bring further beauty into your creation. Help us to forego judgment and instead embrace mercy and forgiveness, following the example of your Son. Help us to hear your invitation to step into your world of goodness, where each brushstroke from each merciful action in our lives adds to the color, shape and dynamism of creation. Empower us to take the risks and make the sacrifices you call us to make. We pray for these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.