A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
‘Mercy’ is compassion for people in need. Richard Lenski helpfully distinguishes it from ‘grace’: ‘The noun *eleos* (mercy) … always deals with what we see of pain, misery and distress, these results of sin; and *charis* (grace) always deals with the sin and guilt itself. The one extends relief, the other pardon; the one cures, heals, helps, the other cleanses and reinstates.’.
Jesus does not specify the categories of people he has in mind to whom his disciples are to show mercy. He gives no indication whether he is thinking primarily of those overcome by disaster, like the traveller from Jerusalem to Jericho whom robbers assaulted and to whom the good Samaritan ‘showed mercy’, or of the hungry, the sick and the outcast on whom he himself regularly took pity, or of those who wrong us so that justice cries out for punishment but mercy for forgiveness. There was no need for Jesus to elaborate. Our God is a merciful God and shows mercy continuously; the citizens of his kingdom must show mercy too.
Of course the world (at least when it is true to its own nature) is unmerciful, as indeed also the church in its worldliness has often been. The world prefers to insulate itself against the pains and calamities of men. It finds revenge delicious, and forgiveness, by comparison, tame. But those who show mercy find it. ‘How blest are those who show mercy; mercy shall be shown them’ (NEB). The same truth is echoed in the next chapter: ‘If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you.’ (Matt.6:14). This is not because we can merit mercy by mercy or forgiveness by forgiveness, but because 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 towards the sins of *others*. Nothing moves us to forgive like the wondering knowledge that we ourselves have been forgiven. Nothing proves more clearly that we have been forgiven than our own readiness to forgive. To forgive and be forgiven, to show mercy and to receive mercy: these belong indissolubly together, as Jesus illustrated in his parable of the unmerciful servant. (Matt.18:21-35). Or, interpreted in the 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.
Tomorrow: Matt. 5:8 The pure in heart.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.