Blessed: The Merciful - Matthew 5:1-2, 7
Jesus turns our world upside down.
It is no longer the self-sufficient, those sure of themselves, the proud who are to consider themselves privileged, but Jesus tells those who hear Him, that the ones who are fortunate are the poor in spirit, those who come to realize that without God, we are nothing—that our identity does not lie in what we do, what we have, or anything other than God Almighty on whom we are dependent for everything, even the breath we just took.
It is no longer the happy-go-lucky folks that are to find themselves fortunate, Jesus tells us that those who are blessed are the ones who look into the world and weep at what they see—those who mourn the condition of the world when they see so many in need in the face of so many who have so much.
It is no longer the arrogant who should hold their head up high, or those who exercise great physical or military might, but those who are humble are privileged, the meek are blessed—those who seek to live like Christ in their reaction to all they encounter in the world thereby showing true strength.
It is no longer those who are content with the status quo that are to consider themselves blessed, but those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—those who want to see God’s justice made visible and being hungry and thirsty for it, get up and so something about it.
Jesus has proclaimed these folks to be blessed because they belong to the Kingdom of God, they are the ones who will be comforted, they are the ones who will find themselves residents of New Jerusalem, and they are the ones who will be satisfied—finding when God restores His Creation, their hunger and thirst will be filled and quenched.
Jesus did not stop there though—Jesus continued to flip the world of those who would hear and heed his words. This time addressing how the world suggests we treat our enemies, or any who has wronged us.
Consider these two clips—the first depicting our world’s traditional view of mercy—the second of Jesus living out how He expects us to live.
Our world tends to be reflective of John Kreese, the instructor from Karate Kid: “Mercy is for the weak. Here, in the streets, in competition: A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.” We don't believe in showing mercy to our enemies. We want our enemies to get what they deserve, and since they are our enemy, they deserve the worst (you know it's funny, as I wrote the sermon we never think about the fact that we are their enemy and if we think we are justified in thinking they deserve the worst, then they would be justified in thinking we deserve the worst).
This attitude many of us have is reflected in a license plate remember from when I was a kid. It read "Kill them all and let God sort them out." Society has this attitude that it is only right for those who deserve to get punished to get punished. Those who refuse to retaliate or who walk away from a fight after being hit are labeled cowards, chickens, scaredy-cats, or just plain weak. Anita and I were just reflecting this week on a conversation we had with another parent back when Davey was in elementary school back East. Parents were talking about fights between kids at school and this one mom said, “I've told my son if someone hits him and he doesn't hit them back, then he better expect to be hit when he gets home.” She didn't want her son seen as weak or a coward.
All these same feelings toward those who refused to get even have been said about those who are willing to forgive as well. They are seen as cowards or even as stupid for not holding on to a grudge, or letting things of the past stay in the past, or not demanding what they could demand.
In the face of the world’s demands for folks to hold onto a grudge and retaliation, Jesus comes in and flips the world upside down. He does not say “Blessed are those who get even,” “blessed are those who fight back,” or “blessed are those who refuse to forgive,” he says “Blessed are the merciful….”
This idea of mercy, of having a compassionate, forgiving, generous heart is not just a onetime statement by Jesus in the beatitudes. It is not just seen in his encounter with the woman caught in the act of adultery…it flows through the Gospels…even before the birth of Jesus.
We can see it in the scene when Joseph learns of Mary’s pregnancy…and thought that she had cheated on him, for he knew they had not slept together and the child was not his. Joseph could have reported her to the religious leaders of the town and demanded that she be stoned to death for what we would call “indiscretion,” but what the Bible calls “sin,” at least as far as he knew what was going on (for Joseph had not yet had his dream-time encounter with the angel explaining everything). Though he could have rightfully demanded that, the Law would demand it, yet, the Scriptures tell us, “…Joseph, being a righteous man [meaning he would not marry her] and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.”[i]
Jesus when confronted by the Pharisees who criticized him for eating with the tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners because they deserved to be shunned, said to the religious leaders, “Those who are well have not need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”[ii]
Later in Matthew Peter questions Jesus on the issue of forgiveness. In response Jesus tells the parable in which a king forgave the debt of 15 years of salary of one of his servants.[iii]
This is all in addition to Jesus teaching those listening to him that they were to turn the other cheek when struck, love ones enemies, do good to those who persecuted them…
“But preacher, doesn't God like justice…isn't the God we worship a just God…isn’t he also the God of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?”
Yes…the God we worship is a just God…but God’s justice is not a vigilante style justice…even the eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth was a command of mercy. Prior to God establishing that within His Law, if I were to go and do something that would accidentally blind _______ in one eye, then ________’s family could come and blind both of my eyes, maybe break a few bones, maybe blind the eyes of everyone else in my family. If I killed a member of the family, they could come and wipe out my entire tribe. In the midst of this over the top vengeance, God comes in and says, if you are going to seek vengeance, then this is all you can do, you can only do what was done to you—Jesus’ call to turn the other cheek was to clarify this to those who were more concerned with the letter of the Law that the Spirit in which God intended it.
God wants us to offer mercy, just as we desire mercy from Him. How many sins have we committed over the course of our lives? There are not enough notebooks in Walmart or a large enough hard drive to contain all of mine if I were able to remember and record every one of them. I would suggest the same is true for all of us. We could go through the Old Testament Law and try and sort out the punishment I deserved for each of them—and they would range from being cast out of the community to probably death…all would mean eternal separation from God…if God were only a God of justice…but our God is not only a just God, He is also a merciful God…and He, Himself, paid the price for my sin…his requirement of justice was met by the atoning sacrifice of His Son upon the cross. It was not because I was a righteous man that Jesus died for me, it was not because I had gotten my life together…Paul reminds us just how merciful that God is: “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”[iv] Hear that again, “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” God showed us what justice and mercy look like together.
“Yeah Preacher, but that’s God, He cannot expect that from us!!! We are not God!!!”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”[v]
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father, will also forgive you; but fi you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.[vi]
And as we remember the parable of the king who forgave that servant who was forgive fifteen years of wages by the king, we remember that when he was released from the debtor’s prison, he encountered a fellow servant who could not pay him back a debt of a day’s wage, attacked him, and had him thrown into the debtor’s prison. What happened then? The king got wind of what happened, had that first servant brought back in and said: “’You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”[vii]
Jesus makes it very, very, very clear that the same mercy that God extends to us despite the large debt we owe Him, we should extend to those who have wronged us, who owe us—not because they have done anything to make things right with us, but possibly even because they can’t.
If we can’t forgive, if we can’t walk away without retaliating, if we can’t show mercy, then, my friends, we risk eternal separation from God…for if He casts us away to be tortured until we pay our debt, until we fulfill the earthly demand for justice, then we will forever be separated from Him, because nothing we could ever do, could repay God for the sins we have committed against Him. If we cannot extend to others what we so desperately desire from God, then Jesus makes it clear, we cannot expect God to offer it to us. Is it easy? No! Is it necessary? For those who desire to spend their lives in the presence of God, Yes!
My brothers and sisters, let us make every effort to live in Christ’s upside down world, and offer mercy, that we may receive mercy.
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.