Blessed are the Merciful

Here’s the full audio of Pastor Michael’s sermon from October 22, 2017, reflecting on the fifth Beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount:

And here’s a written excerpt, looking at what it means to “be merciful”:

Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount can help us get at what Jesus means by being “merciful.” Here is Luke 6:35-38:

Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.

A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

Right at the heart of these teachings is this statement: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” It’s a fresh take on an Old Testament idea: “Be holy, just as Yahweh is holy.” It’s a parallel to Matthew’s version, which says, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” But Luke’s version is not about “holiness,” nor is it about some lofty ideal of “perfection.” It’s about mercy.

“Be merciful, in the same way that God is merciful.”

Actually, to be fair to both Moses and Matthew, their versions both suggest the same thing.

When Yahweh says in Leviticus 19:2, for example, “Be holy, just as I am holy,” it’s to introduce a whole series of laws about how the ancient Israelites were to treat each other. Respecting one’s parents and elders. Providing for the poor. Not defrauding one’s neighbours. Looking out for the disabled. Not committing violence against each another. Treating foreigners among them as fellow citizens.

In other words, a good part of Israel’s call to “be holy just as God is holy” was about “being merciful just as God is merciful.”

And when Matthew phrases this in Matthew 5:48 as, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect,” he’s using a word for “perfection” that doesn’t mean “flawless”—that’s what we think when we hear the language of “perfection” in the Bible. But the word behind that language actually means “mature” or “complete,” something “having fulfilled its purpose.”

“Be perfect” doesn’t mean, “be flawless”—it means, “be complete, fulfill your purpose,” just as God does. And what is that “completion,” that “fulfilled purpose”? In Matthew 5 it’s much the same as in Luke 6: love your enemies and do good to all, whether they are evil or good.

In other words, Matthew’s language of “be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” is essentially meaning, “be merciful just as God is merciful.”

How can we be “holy”? How can we be “perfect”? How can we be like God? By being merciful.

That might go against the grain of our received thinking. It certainly goes against the grain of much of our culture. But that’s where Jesus’ teaching points us to: mercy is the holiness, the perfection, that God has been pointing us to all along.

And what does this “mercy” look like? Well, Jesus’ teaching in this passage from Luke 6 tells us. All the teachings around this statement, “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful,” are describing exactly what God does, how God is merciful—and so how we should likewise be merciful.

There’s loving enemies.

God does this. God has done this with us, in fact: “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of God’s Son,” Romans 5:10 declares. And so we are called to do the same: loving enemies, loving any who oppose us or seek to harm us, even when that’s uncomfortable or just plain hard.

There’s doing good to all, both enemies and friends, both evil and good.

God does this. God has done this with us, in fact: “God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous,” Matthew 5:45 declares. And so we are called to do the same: liberally scattering our good deeds in the world, without discrimination of any kind.

There’s giving freely, without expectation of return.

God does this. God has done this with us, in fact: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights,” James 1:17 declares. And so we are called to do the same: giving our time and money and energy and any other resources freely to any who are in need, especially to those in need, without expecting to get it back.

There’s not judging, not condemning others around us.

God does this. God has done this with us, in fact: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1 declares. And so we are called to do the same: being discerning for ourselves, yes, but refusing to be judgmental of others, not condemning them as unworthy or looking down on them in disdain, whoever they are, whatever their story.

There’s forgiving others when they wrong us.

God does this—of course God does this. God has done this with us, in fact: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you,” Ephesians 4:32 declares. And so, as this text says, we are called to do the same: forgiving others their sins against us, breaking that chain of guilt and obligation that binds them to us—and us to them—because of their offense against us.

All this is what “mercy” is. All this is the mercy God has shown us. And all this is the mercy Jesus calls us to show each other.

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One Response to Blessed are the Merciful

  1. smithjungle says:

    Beautifully spoken. Thank you for giving these gifts every week.

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