Passage: Matthew 5:1-2 & 5:7
5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:
5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Soul Search Essay
In a prior essay, I shared the logic behind the paragraph below:
“[You are fortunate if you] are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Merciful here indicates a method of engaging others (i.e. living out mercy) by seeing an offender’s point of view regardless of whether the person harmed you directly and violently (SEE NOTE) or indirectly with subtlety. Your seeing into this person’s world leads not only to not gloating over harm that comes to the offender, but instead you live the mercy out in some manner such as forgiving him or her. (NOTE: Forgiveness does not require engagement of the offender. There are situations where engaging the offender is dangerous, such as domestic violence, abuse, etc.)
While I cannot argue from the passage that empathy is a core element of this Beatitude, I do not know how to explain it without referencing this concept.
Empathy is not a feeling. It is not feeling sad for someone in mourning or happy with someone celebrating. These things are sympathy, which is sharing an emotional experience with someone. Empathy is about gaining awareness of another person’s true thoughts, emotions, beliefs and decisions.
Empathy is the thinking skill set that allows you to see a situation from behind another’s eyes. It is the ability to clearly and accurately see relevant parts of a person’s inner world and how those elements tie to outward behavior. This skill can show you the way he or she thinks, the harms the person experienced, the true and false beliefs he or she has and, ultimately, the warring parts of the person’s soul. To show mercy I think requires the skills in empathy.
This Beatitude’s concept of mercy is founded and rooted in human action derived from YHWH’s mercy in a spiritual and physical war. The action is external. You do mercy. It is not primarily an attitude. It is acting on an attitude and capability as led by YHWH. This is one of the most critical ways that intimate participation with Jesus occurs. Jesus made it very clear that even as God, he did nothing but what the Father directed (Gospel of John).
So, the “merciful” are Christians who act to extend mercy into other’s lives in a manner that emmulates YHWH’s mercy as expressed in Jesus’ life. YHWH sent Jesus into a world populated exclusively (again exclusively) by offenders. No one was truly on Jesus’ side in this war until after Pentecost. In fact, almost all humans were under the sway of his enemy. Yes, Simion and Anna waited for Jesus to be born. They anticipated him and prophesied about him, but their role was to point to him and not to support him. What Jesus had to do, he did essentially on his own (in human terms).
So, Jesus did a single act of mercy and left. Correct? Of course not. Jesus came and stayed. He lived mercy.
This Beatitude is a call to living mercy. It is a call to be merciful to the people who hurt you (although it is NOT a sanction of violence against you), to show mercy to the people that may not hurt you, but anger you deeply and even to those who mildly annoy you. Too often, it is in the cataclysmic that we see mercy as relevant. The small petty things, those persistent minor annoyances, for these we feel justified in denying mercy to those around us. After all, here is that pesky Bob or Jane or….again. We are wrong. Christ demonstrated that all deserve mercy, although he also made it clear later that all cannot be trusted. You cannot deliver this quality of merciful acts consistently across your social sphere and across time on your own strength. It ain’t going to happen. At most, you might succeed at being nice.
Being nice, however, is not Christ-like. Being nice is too often about us. It is about gaining and maintaining acceptance in a Christian culture or the common world’s culture. Nice is too often about image management. Niceness focuses on your externals, not others’ internals. Some nice people consistently smile at others, especially the annoying ones, not because of others’ internal emotions, struggles, etc., but because it is a component of ‘niceness.’ Others deploy niceness as a generic response. Little thought goes into the response. It is reflexive. Niceness is something humans constructed in an effort to be merciful and kind. This is not mercy. It is a partially sighted or even blind response out of a personal conception of self as nice or out of cultural conditioning. Niceness is not wrong (although it can be counterproductive). It just is not mercy.
Jesus was not nice. He was merciful. He came and demonstrated for years that he understands our inner worlds – the pain, the joy, the wrong thinking, the harm experienced. He came to show that God understands us to our very core. He demonstrated to us that he had meaningful, effective answers to questions we had and to questions we did not know we should have. Jesus Christ acted repeatedly, consistently in our best interests while we were his enemies. That is mercy. That is being merciful.
Mercy is messy. It is embarrassing. It sometimes involves conflict. It is moving another’s best interests forward while they hate you. There is nothing nice about that. Niceness says that I will control my speech and behavior toward you. Jesus’ mercy says that I will deliver what God wants you to have when he wants you to have it, even when it upsets you (God driven, not human driven). Niceness is about managing you via my behavior. I make a statement about me by being nice. Mercy is about me intimately participating in removing sin that is in your life and in your soul. I do not choose my part in that removal though. I may play a small indirect part. It may be a very small sin removed and redeemed. The size is not the key. It is the intimate persistence of the merciful in submission to YHWH, Jesus and the Holy Spirit that is the key.
Sometimes, it is a larger mercy delivered to a person drowning slowly (or quickly) in their own shit. Sometimes you have to climb into the shit with them. Mercy is YHWH directed intimate, persistent willingness on your part. This willingness is followed by YHWH’s direction of your actual actions to deliver grace to someone that will kick you in the face. This is what Jesus did over and over again. He did mercy at YHWH’s direction not his own initiative.
Jesus climbed down into the sewage of human emotion, thinking, beliefs and actions. He swam under and in the sewage in order to demonstrate the depth of mercy open to us. Our response? We kick him. We kick him even once we are believers. Jesus’ response? He dives deeper to reach us. He dives deeper as directed in his intimate relationship with YHWH.
This is mercy – guided intentional action (despite being kicked) empowered through the intimate awareness of sewage in the lives around me, lives I encounter and lives where I am told by YHWH, “Go. Dive. Reach that person.” Mercy is also your restraint when told not to act. Some mercies are severe; meaning very painful to witness and yet remain inactive. Accomplishing mercy in these ways requires obtaining intimate sewage awareness via empathy. It requires intentional listening for the sewage. It requires the decisions to experience others’ pain and then to act as you are led. It requires consistent intimacy with the Holy Spirit. It requires courage.