“Blessed are the merciful”
(Matthew 5:7 – Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.)
The blessing, or promise of happiness, found in the fifth beatitude is for those who are merciful. Matthew 5:7 reads, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” The Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines this mercy as “not simply possessed of pity, but actively compassionate” and “used of Christ as a High Priest, and of those who are like God”1. Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the American Language defines mercy as “That benevolence, mildness or tenderness of heart which disposes a person to overlook injuries, or to treat an offender better than he deserves; the disposition that tempers justice, and induces an injured person to forgive trespasses and injuries, and to forbear punishment, or inflict less than law or justice will warrant. In this sense, there is perhaps no word in our language precisely synonymous with mercy. That which comes nearest to it is grace. It implies benevolence, tenderness, mildness, pity or compassion, and clemency, but exercised only towards offenders. Mercy is a distinguishing attribute of the Supreme Being.”2 Throughout the Word of God, we read of God’s tender mercies, and even that they are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). Here in this beatitude, we see that we, too are to display this attribute in our daily life if we desire to receive the blessing of mercy.
In Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asks Christ, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Christ continues His answer to Peter’s question with the following parable that paints a beautiful picture of mercy and forgiveness. Matthew 18:23-35, “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”
This is a very profound and thought-provoking parable. A critical part of this lesson is to help every person who has received pardon from God to realize that each one of us was like this servant, with a debt that we could not pay. Jesus Christ, who is our King, came to this earth to pay man’s sin debt because He was and still is “…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). God’s will is that all mankind be delivered from the power and the penalty of sin. In Galatians 1:4, it says, “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.” Also, in Luke 1:74-75 we read, “That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.” The sentiments expressed in Ephesians 2:3-5 perfectly sum up the love and mercy God had on those that at one time were helpless in their spiritual condition, “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)”
Another important point to understand in the parable that Christ gave is the value of a talent. Albert Barnes Commentary explains that the talent in verse 24 “was a sum of money, or weight of silver or gold amounting to three thousand shekels. A silver shekel was worth, after the captivity, not far from half a dollar of our money. A talent of silver was worth (circa 1880‘s) 1,519.23 =342 British pounds, 3 shillings, 9d.; of gold, 243,098.88 =5,475 British pounds. If these were silver talents, as is probable, then the sum owed by the servant was 15,180,000, or about 3,421,875 British sterling (circa 1880‘s), a sum which proves that he was not a domestic, but some tributary prince.”3 In modern day dollars, this sum is billions of dollars! The commentary goes on to conclude that this sum is used to show that the debt was immensely large. Similarly, while in sin, a person’s sin debt is so great that it cannot be estimated or numbered.
For the value of the hundred pence found in verses 28-29 of this parable, Albert Barnes says it was “a Roman silver coin in common use. When Greece became subject to the Romans, and especially under the emperors, the denarius was regarded as of equal value with the Attic drachma – about 7 1/2 d. sterling, or 15 cents (circa 1880‘s); consequently, this debt was about 15 dollars – a very small sum compared with what had been forgiven to the first servant. Perhaps our Saviour, by this, meant to teach that the offences which our fellow-men commit against us are very small and insignificant compared with our offences against God. Since God has forgiven us so much we ought to forgive each other the small offences which are committed.”3 When we consider just how small even the greatest offense we may be dealt by another person in comparison with the immense sin debt we once owed, it puts things into perspective. It may not be small compared to other offenses but compared to the debt none of us were able to pay, it is still small. If God was merciful to forgive us of such an immense debt, how could we hold a comparatively trivial offense over the head of another? We know by this parable that it is very displeasing to God for us to not extend to others the same mercy and forgiveness that was extended to us. In Matthew 6:14-15, it says, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
We can learn from this parable not to judge people from our own point of view, especially when it comes time for extending mercy and forgiveness. There is an old quote which says, “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.”4 In “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Harper Lee makes this point even clearer saying, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”4 This is exactly what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did when He left Heaven and took on the form of man. In Philippians 2:7-8 it says, “But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Also, in Hebrews 2:17, it says, “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” This is why we are told in Hebrews 4:15, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Christ knows what it means to suffer and to feel pain. His Word tells those that have been granted access in verse 16 of the same chapter, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” To those that have not been born again, Christ says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Christ expects His followers to show mercy to others. Understanding Christ’s mission can help motivate one to be merciful. This includes showing mercy to those that are not showing kindness to us. In 2 Corinthians 5:19 it tells us, “…that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” Just as God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, Christ wants to be in us reconciling the world to Him. As ambassadors of Christ, we show the love of God by extending the same love, mercy and forgiveness that was extended to us. Not only to those who treat us the way we desire to be treated, but also to those who offend or injure us. It is important to remember that by definition, mercy is only mercy if it is being extended to an offender. The mercy that this beatitude exemplifies is that disposition that allows a person to overlook injury and forbear punishment. Instead of responding with the emotions of frustration or hurt that one might experience, taking a moment to consider the time (most likely many times) you may have evoked the same feeling of frustration or hurt in someone else. Does it feel better to be rebuked and put in our place, or to be treated kindly with mercy by the one we have hurt or offended?
The Bible commands us to show kindness even to our enemies. Almost identical counsel is given in both Proverbs 25:21-23 and in Romans 12:19-21 where it say, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Extending mercy and kindness to an enemy not only heaps coals of fire upon their head (a saying derived from an ancient Egyptian practice, meaning it will bring the enemy to repentance), it allows us as God’s children to overcome evil with good. If we can keep in our minds how we injured a holy God by sinning against Him, but in love and mercy, we’ll remember He forgave. If we hold precious that in mercy, He made a way that we would not have to continue sinning against Him but live a life that is well pleasing to Him, it will encourage us to extend this same mercy to even our enemies.
We have an example to follow. Christ is our example in all things. I Peter 2:21-22 says, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” Luke 6:36 tell us, “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” Also, Paul says in Colossians 3:12, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.” When one shows mercy to others, they are blessed because they are following the pattern set forth in the Word of God of showing kindness to others. The Word of God promises the happiness, or blessing, of obtaining mercy to those who understand the principles behind this beatitude and are willing to extend mercy to others.
- Vine, William E., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, no copyright, 1940
- Webster, Noah, American Dictionary of the English Language, First Edition, 1828
- Barnes, Albert, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament (Complete and unabridged in one volume), Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1962
- Lathrap, Mary T., Judge Softly, (poem) 1895
- Lee, Harper, To Kill a Mockingbird, HarperCollins, 1960