The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, (Exodus 34:6 ESV)
The Exodus quote shows that the characteristic in fifth Beatitude is a characteristic of God, one that he proclaimed about himself when revealing his glory to Moses. When we are merciful, we are acting out of the new self, in the image of the Creator (Colossians 3:10).
One aspect of mercy is compassion, the feeling with someone. In Hebrews 2:17, after a lengthy description of Jesus’ subjecting himself to the likeness of men, he concludes Jesus was made like his brothers in every way so that he could be a merciful and faithful High Priest One who is merciful is affected by the states of others and is moved to help them. Further, this help is offered without the demand that they deserve such help.
I want to point out that as with the other Beatitudes, this is not a natural characteristic, but one created by the Spirit of God in the believer. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and not hypocritical. (James 3:17) There are those who are naturally sympathetic and helpful. They may not look at this verse and think they are earning God’s mercy. Many self-help books will point out the natural fact that if you treat people nice, they will respond by treating you nice. It is a helpful natural fact, which when not done in living out born again dependence on the Spirit is handed over to the commitment to rebel against God (Romans 6). Let’s look at two of Jesus’ parables.
In the well-known story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), the Samaritan saw the beaten, robbed man and “took pity on him”. This showed itself by picking the man up and taking care of his wounds at his own expense even beyond the time of his own presence there. There was no obligation, no earning of the actions, no proving himself worthy and no indebtedness. The Samaritan was the one who showed mercy (v 37). As I said in a previous blog, this parable reversed the question which inspired it. “Who is my neighbor?” asked the scribe. “Who are you being a neighbor to?” responds Jesus.
The second is the story of the king settling accounts with his servants (Matthew 18:22-35). One owed him a huge sum of money, but when he begged for more time the king showed him mercy. In his turn, that servant found a man who owed him a few dollars. Though the second man used the same words of entreaty, the servant had him locked up. So, the king rebuked the servant for not offering the mercy he was offered.
This brings up the point made earlier. Mercy is a result of being shown mercy not the earning of mercy. If one does not “feel” merciful, he should consider the mercy he has been shown. In the state of debt forgiven, there is freedom to forgive debts. In the place where needs are met, closing your heart to the needs of others is unnecessary. You do not have to hoard. People who show no mercy are ignorant of their condition, ignorant of the mercy offered to them and ignorant of their relationship with God.
One other aspect of mercy I’d like to bring out. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. (Romans 12:17-20) Mercy is shown by not getting back. The one who on this earth has his hope in God also knows that he does not need to set everything right. Freed from that, you are free to show mercy and kindness to those who are actively against you. In doing this you are like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45)