Blessed Are the Merciful

Blessed are the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them. —Matthew 5:7

I believe with all my heart that mercy and forgiveness are the whole Gospel. The Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79) says we’ll have knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sin (1:77). The experience of forgiveness or mercy is the experience of a magnanimous God who loves out of total gratuitousness. There’s no tit for tat. Grace isn’t for sale. That is the symbolism of Jesus kicking over the tables in the temple. One cannot buy God by worthiness, by achievement, by obeying commandments. Salvation is God’s loving-kindness, a loving-kindness that is “forever.” Read Psalm 136 for an ecstatic description of God’s faithful mercy.

More than something God does now and then, mercy is who-God-is. According to Jesus, “Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13; 12:7). The word used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures is chesed, “the steadfast, enduring love which is unbreakable.” Sometimes it is translated as “loving-kindness” or “covenant love.” God has made a covenant with creation and will never break the divine side of the covenant. The covenant is only broken from our side. God’s love is steadfast. It is written in the divine image within us. We are the ones who instead clutch at our sins and beat ourselves instead of surrendering to the divine mercy. Refusing to be forgiven is a form of pride. It’s saying, “I’m better than mercy. I’m only going to accept it when I’m worthy and can preserve my so-called self-esteem.” Only the humble person, the little one, can live in and after mercy.

The mystery of forgiveness is God’s ultimate entry into powerlessness. Withholding forgiveness is a form of power over another person, a way to manipulate, shame, control, and diminish another. God in Jesus refuses all such power.

If Jesus is the revelation of what’s going on inside the eternal God (see Colossians 1:15), which is the core of the Christian faith, then we are forced to conclude that God is very humble. This God never seems to hold rightful claims against us. Abdicating what we thought was the proper role of God, this God “has thrust all our sins behind his back” (see Isaiah 38:17).

We do not attain anything by our own holiness but by ten thousand surrenders to mercy. A lifetime of received forgiveness allows us to become mercy: That’s the Beatitude. We become what we receive, what we allow into our hearts. Mercy becomes our energy and purpose. Perhaps we are finally enlightened and free when we can both receive it and give it away—without payment or punishment.

Richard Rohr

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996), 136, 137-138.

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