When my daughter received a donut-shaped palette of lip gloss for her seventh birthday, she squealed with such excitement that I questioned why I’ve ever spent money on Disney World tickets. For two dollars and fifty cents, she was thrilled.
It’s understandable then why my shoulder caught her heartbroken tears a few hours later after her younger sister destroyed her beloved gift.
I prompted my youngest daughter to reconcile with her sister by looking her in the eye, admitting her fault without excuse, and asking for forgiveness. But on this particular day, extending mercy had no appeal whatsoever for my tender-hearted seven-year-old.
“I don’t want to forgive her, Mom! She should lose something that’s special to her, too!” she continued to sob.
I’ve felt that.
In fact, I’m a lot more like my daughter than I’d want you to know. When my well-being is my sole concern, I can get so focused on my own cheap sense of justice that I forfeit the gift to my own soul that extending mercy offers.
Maybe that’s what Jesus hoped we’d experience when he taught about mercy in the “Sermon on the Mount.” To show his audience — full of followers and foe alike — what the kingdom of heaven is like, Jesus inverted everything they thought they knew starting with a list of qualities among the “blessed.” This list that praised the poor in spirit, the mourning, and the meek, would have been purposely polarizing to an audience of elites and outcasts.
In Matthew 5:11, mercy makes that list:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
“Blessed are the merciful…”
Mercy takes place where forgiveness and kindness collide. At least that’s how it’s felt to me as I’ve been on mercy’s receiving end.
I feel the effect of mercy when my sin hurts people I love but they still meet me with forgiveness, or when my needs are met by the kind help of others. In both circumstances, the givers of mercy fit Jesus’ description of the merciful: they are “blessed.” The blessed experience joy in the company of God because they have responded to Christ.
Joy and mercy are connected cyclically in the gospel: the joy that the merciful have in their relationship with Christ fuels their generosity, and their generosity deepens the joy they find in Christ. Mercy is as great of a gift to the giver as it is the receiver.
“…For they will receive mercy.”
Left to my natural sin-skewed view, mercy can appear weak. If I equate it to withholding consequences, I’ll scoff at the perceived lack of justice. But actually, it requires great strength.
Jesus highlights the juxtaposition of mercy by setting our assumptions about it against how it actually works; it’s not weakness, it’s strength. It’s not one-sided, it’s an exchange.
On the cross, forgiveness and kindness collided in the ultimate act of mercy. Jesus willingly died on our behalf to pay the penalty of our sin. He was merciful so that we might receive mercy, and because of his surrender and sacrifice, we get to experience joy in the company of God forever!
In the meantime, we have the opportunity to respond to Jesus’ gift of mercy by extending it to one another. And, although, it can be difficult for us we don’t have to do it alone! The gift of the Holy Spirit enables us to emulate Christ like we never could on our own.
Perhaps as we do, we’ll get a small taste of the upside-down kingdom Jesus taught about and find that extending mercy is as much a gift to ourselves as those to whom we give it.
Where is God calling you to offer mercy today?