Blessed are the merciful


“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται

Today we enter the holy of holies of the Beatitudes. Everything so far has been preparation. Poor in spirit, meek, mourners, hungry and thirsty for justice – qualities that describe the disciple who follows Christ.

“But I will show you a still more excellent way,” Paul tells us today (1 Corinthians 12:31). That more excellent way is LOVE. “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

christ teaching“God is love,” (1 John 4:8). God is merciful throughout the Old and the New Testaments. So, Jesus tells us, “Be merciful as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). He also said, “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). So clearly, perfection is to be merciful like God. This is the love that Paul describes. There is no love more patient than the love of God. There is no love that rejoices more in the good than God’s love. And so on. And finally, Love never ends. That is God’s love; it never ends. And that is the love that should be in us.

Blessed are the merciful….  To be merciful is to be like God.

In Orthodox theology we talk about deification. Monks spend a lifetime practicing austerity, prayer and self-denial in order to attain this thing we call deification (theosis). Some men and women monks have indeed  attained extraordinary heights of holiness; have indeed been deified.

But Jesus was not speaking to monks! Be merciful / Be perfect – as your Father in heaven is merciful / perfect. We can all be merciful – so we can all be like God. You don’t have to lock yourself in a monastery or be a hermit. Be merciful. Be loving. Mercy springs from love.

SOM05_Blessed_Are_the_Merciful_fsThose who are poor in spirit and meek; those who mourn for their own sins and for the sins of the world; those who are hungry and thirsty for justice – these are the people most prepared to be merciful. To be like God!

Don’t you see now what these Beatitudes are all about? Only God exists in beatitude, in total blessedness. The Beatitudes bestow on us the blessedness that belongs to God.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Receive mercy from whom? From God? From each other? This is the only beatitude that expresses mutuality. A relationship. It comes from the Hebrew.

Many words in Greek and in Hebrew to express the quality of mercy. For example, in Hebrew: raḥamîm – semitic root going back to ancient Akkadian to signify compassion, womb.

But the most important Hebrew word for “mercy” is ḥesed. It conveys the sense of a mutual relationship; faithfulness and loyalty. No one understood this mutual understanding of “mercy” better than Jesus, so here in the middle of the Beatitudes, he pronounced the only beatitude which expressed perfect mutuality. It is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I wonder if God gets tired of all our Kyrie Eleisons. Are we missing the first half of this Beatitude? The “merciful” part? Are we merciful, or do we only ask for mercy from God? Are we merciful so we can also receive mercy from one another? The Beatitudes are not only about God blessing us. They are about the life of God’s kingdom here, where we most need to be merciful to one another. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ.


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