Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.
Mercy is a word I associate with crime, punishment, and the legal system. In my mind, to be given mercy means to be granted forgiveness for my transgressions. It makes sense that Jesus would say this, because he said it in the Lord’s Prayer, as well.
Except that this isn’t what Jesus is saying at all. The Greek word eleos (the root of the word that is here translated as merciful) means to be compassionate and empathetic: to be tender toward those who suffer, without consideration for whether they deserve what is happening to them. It’s not about forgiveness for transgressions, it’s about completely disregarding the ‘transgression question.’
The equivalent word in Hebrew is hesed. It means to give help to those in need, without giving heed to whether or not they are deserving. It is to respond impartially with the love of God toward all:
- Toward the houseless person cluttering up the downtown street.
- Toward the person who just took the parking spot you were waiting for.
- Toward the politician whose policies you detest.
- Toward ALL.
And Jesus is commending those who already do this. This isn’t a command, it’s an observation. One that we all would do well to remember in this era where it’s easy to publicly pop off with judgmental statements on social media. How well received are our opinions by those who disagree? Being filled with judgy outrage does not promote happiness – as Jesus wisely observes.
My favorite translation of this verse is Barclay’s (edited to be inclusive):
O the bliss of s/he who gets right inside other people until s/he can see with their eyes, think with their thoughts, feel with their feelings, for s/he who does that will find others do the same for them.