The series continues, and we are on the 5th beatitude this post. In case you are just joining us, these were originally my teaching notes when I taught an adult class on the beatitudes. We began each class reading all the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) and then focused on one. (FYI, this was a talkative class, and I did not have to develop lots of questions for there to be discussion.)
The 5th beatitude takes a turn. The first 4 were more about our attitude to God – vertical/up – we are to be poor in spirit, mourn our sin, be meek, and hunger for righteousness. This beatitude is more about our attitude to fellow human beings, so horizontal relationships.
The first week I shared some similarities and differences between the Ten Commandments and the beatitudes. The Ten Commandments also begin with more of a vertical focus on our relationship with God and then move into relationships with others.
Our beatitude this week is verse 7: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
An easy opening question: What is mercy? I’m not looking for a technical definition, just off the top of your head – what is mercy?
I discovered quickly that tracing the concept of mercy in the Bible, or doing a word study, is not straightforward. It is complicated by the fact that the word mercy in our English Bibles is actually the translation of several different Hebrew and Greek words – not just one.
And then these original Hebrew or Greek words can also be translated in different ways – besides mercy, these words may also be translated kindness, favor, pity, compassion. To best picture this concept would require a group of overlapping linguistic circles. (I drew 4 circles on the board, that overlap, and each was labeled with either kindness, favor, pity, or compassion.)
Several different definitions of mercy from Bible dictionaries:
-Compassion to one who is in need, or in helpless distress, or in debt without claim to favorable treatment.
-Outward manifestation of pity that assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it.
-To feel sympathy with the misery of another especially sympathy manifested in action.
Any thoughts or observations about those?
Have Ephesians 2:4-5 and and 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 read.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion [or mercy] and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Don’t you love that? God is rich in mercy and the Father of mercies.
Have Romans 12:1-2 read. Pay attention.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
What is to be our motivation or incentive for Christian living?
– “I urge you in view of God’s mercy”
Mercy should make us grateful, and motivate us to live differently.
Certain types of Christianity can instead use things like pressure, guilt, and fear to motivate people. Crack the whip! (Any experience or background with that?)
We are supposed to live the Christian life like Jesus did, with joy set before him (as Heb. 12:2 states), NOT with fear, guilt and pressure chasing us down. An appreciation of God’s mercy and love should be the propelling force in our life.
Unfortunately, mercy can be taken advantage of. It is a risk to show mercy. The person may think “Yeah! I got away with it!” They may not be thankful or appreciative.
And with that, lets look at a parable in Matthew that is usually entitled “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.”
Read Matthew 18:21-35.
Note that the springboard for the parable was a question Peter asked about forgiveness (vs 21). What was Peter apparently looking for when he asked his question? I think he was probably expecting a certain response from Jesus.
- Maybe Peter was looking for confirmation or approval that he was forgiving or understood forgiveness – because he would forgive multiple times. He expected Jesus to say, “Excellent Peter, you are a perceptive disciple and so forgiving!”
What effect do you think that Jesus’ answer in verse 22 about forgiving 77 times, and then telling this parable of the unmerciful servant, would have had on Peter? Try to put yourself in Peter’s place.
- I think it was probably pretty humbling! Similar to some of Peter’s other foot-in-mouth conversations or humbling experiences with Jesus.
We read 2 verses about God being rich in mercy and the Father of mercies. How does the king or master in this parable display the character of God (vs 23-27)?
- His very generous forgiveness of a debt is like how God through Christ forgave us and atoned for our sin.
How did the servant’s behavior after he was forgiven this huge debt reveal his true attitude toward the master’s forgiveness (vs 28-30)?
- The servant didn’t seem to appreciate what was done for him. As said, showing mercy is a risk! Our mercy may be trampled on rather than appreciated.
I think this parable is so extreme that we can fail to see ourselves in it. We would never behave this way! But aren’t we all guilty of something similar in a multitude of little ways in life? Maybe you are rude to someone, and they kindly overlook your rudeness. And then a bit later someone is rude to you, and you jump all over them – how dare you treat me this way? We are like the unmerciful servant.
The ending of this parable (vs 32-35) and the last verse of summation can be seen as troubling:
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Doesn’t this seem to contradict God’s love and mercy? If we aren’t perfectly forgiving and merciful, God will withdraw his mercy from us. But that would contradict other passages and core Christian doctrine. We do not merit God’s mercy. It is undeserved. So, any thoughts about explaining this verse? Some could say it is cruel and hard to reconcile with a God of love.
— Ideas…It is a parable making a general point, not a doctrinal passage. I think the verse is using hyperbole or overstatement to make a point. In light of how God has forgiven you, you should be forgiving towards others. And if you are not, something is wrong. Maybe some spiritual diagnosis is in order – as I mentioned last week in regards to hungering for righteousness. Maybe we have lost sight of God’s mercy. Mercy should make us grateful, and motivate us to live differently.
John Stott nicely summarizes this and ties it in with the beatitudes:
“The point of this parable is not that we merit mercy by mercy or forgiveness by forgiveness. The point is that we cannot receive the mercy and forgiveness of God unless we repent, and we cannot claim to have repented of our sins if we are unmerciful toward the sins of others. Or, interpreted in context of the beatitudes, it is the meek who are also the merciful. For to be meek is to acknowledge to others that we are sinners, to be merciful is to have compassion on others, for they are sinners too.” – page 38*
We all need to pray to be more merciful. I think it is easier to receive mercy than it is to extend mercy to another. But think of all the mercy God has given us. I’ll admit this is hard for me – I have a keen sense of fairness and justice. I am more of a “tough love” type of person – and mercy can seem lax and lenient, too nice. Of interest, mercy is on the list of spiritual gifts (Romans 12), and I think mercy is not one of my gifts! But, of course, that doesn’t give me an excuse to be unmerciful.
I ended this lesson by having the class respond to an e-mail about mercy that I’d sent earlier in the week. I’d asked them to contemplate mercy, and if they had a personal story of a time when someone showed mercy to them, or they showed mercy to another, and it had a positive outcome – it was transformative in some way. Or perhaps a story of mercy being trampled on and unappreciated like the unmerciful servant.
* In the first post of this series, I shared that I utilized many sources as I studied to prepare these lessons, but one source that was often helpful was John Stott’s guide: The Beatitudes, Developing Spiritual Character by InterVarsity Press. Besides this quote from page 38, several of the questions on the Matthew 18 passage are from this guide.