Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (Mt 5.7)

μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται.

Blessed are the merciful, because they shall receive mercy. When I read this something leaps out of the text at me. What about those who are not merciful. Will they receive mercy? Is this similar to forgiving if you want the Father to forgive you (see v. 14) or not judging lest you want to be judge (Mt 7.1)? It seems that for this evangelist there is much that is contingent upon our actions.

Is God merciful to the unmerciful? In some sense we may say yes. God is gracious to us even when we are not being gracious ourselves. Yet these sayings have an eschatological bent thus far, so it makes me think we must understand this in terms of a whole life lived. Those who live continually unmerciful lives will not find mercy from God.

If one lives a life intentionally oppressing the poor, the orphan, the widow, and any other person or group in need it seems that Jesus is saying when they stand before God they will not find his mercy toward them. God is not a God who overlooks the merciless abuse of others. God will judge those who lack mercy.

I know some Christians don’t like to hear this type of thing. It sounds like “works righteousness” (a cute Protestant slander used when something doesn’t fit a particular reading of the Pauline corpus). In some sense we may say that it is. In the First Gospel the evangelist is very, very clear that disciples must follow  the Master. The Master is graceful, but if we are disobedient and evil toward others it is apparent that we are not his disciples. For the sake of discussion with those who have been burnt by legalism in the past, and who cannot hear it this way, let me reframe it. If one lacks mercy toward others they likely lack the basic faith in Christ necessary to be the people of God.

If we are cruel to those in need, if we take advantage of others on every occasion, if we step on those who are low, how can we say we have faith in Christ? If we trust Christ we will trust his Father to be our Father which means we will trust the Father to sort out injustices toward us. If the Spirit is working in our lives we will be more and more aware of our own faults and failures. This will cause us to realize the humanity of the other. In this we find grounds for mercy.

I think the Spirit empowers us to be merciful. If we trust Christ we trust that his Spirit will make us into merciful people. When we stand before the Father on that great day he will see that through his Son by his Spirit we were becoming people of mercy. God will recognize us as his children and we will receive mercy for all our short comings.