Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Matthew 5:7
The more aware I am about my own need for God’s mercy, the more merciful I will become regarding the weaknesses of others.
In the ancient prayer of the church, the Jesus Prayer, or the Prayer of the Heart, the plea for mercy is the primary petition, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Many shorten this to match a breathing pattern for the unceasing prayer of the heart, praying, “Lord Jesus Christ – have mercy on me,” but the petition remains. I acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ over my life and overall, and plead for His mercy for my sins, those intentional and those missteps that continually reveal the weakness of my flesh.
When I am merciful I know I am becoming like my Father in heaven for He is merciful. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps 103.8).
Later, in this teaching, Jesus says:
“. . . love your enemies and do good and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6.35–36).
Note the lifestyle of the merciful person; she loves her enemies, she does good and lends, expecting nothing in return, her life reflects the life of God who is kind to those who are ungrateful and selfish. I can be kind to people who are thankful and humble, they’re pretty easy, but I have to admit, the ungrateful and selfish are hard for me, I don’t naturally feel merciful to them. Without the honest realization of my own ungrateful, selfish blind spots, which I am desperate for God to cover, I can’t do it. Whereas, when I really see my own need, Christ softens my heart to others who have the same need for mercy that I do.
But the fact that God is merciful to me doesn’t justify my continued sin or suggest that He tolerates my selfishness, overlooks my double-standards and judgment of others – He isn’t like that. By extension, neither is our mercy towards others a doormat of acceptance of their foolishness. Being merciful means to have compassion and empathy for people bound by sin, stupidity, and callousness, not celebrate them. Mercy simply refuses to be self-righteous regarding other’s sins, justifying our own shortcomings in view of the ‘bigger’ sins of others.
So while I don’t judge others or condemn them, I also don’t justify, condone, or enable their sin. We can’t sweep the world’s sins under a rug and pretend they don’t exist – I know mine aren’t swept away. I’m responsible. In the same way, mercy does not judge, it also doesn’t provide false hope. The world needs Jesus, He is the only hope. His mercy flows through people who realize their personal dependence on the same mercy. Freely you have received, freely give.