Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matthew 5:7
As we continue through the beatitudes, I think this beatitude is core to how we look and interact with the world. This verse is not solely external. Where we are at internally with our relationship with God and how we view all that God has done for us are the primary catalysts for this debt of mercy that we will have on those around us. We have a debt towards God because of our sin. God has asked us to distribute the mercy that He has shown us on to everyone that we interact with.
This verse upon first glance can look like a cause and effect. The verse can look like we will only receive mercy if we give it to others. In some ways, that is true. I believe that we need to draw out the deeper meaning behind this verse and interpret it through other verses to understand what Jesus really wants here. Let’s define our terms first. "Mercy" (as defined by Oxford Languages) is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. I would challenge that this definition should instead say that “it is within one’s right to punish or harm.”
The Old Testament system of the Law saw justice in some ways, as in an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth. There were ways that the Law given by Moses did have mercy and grace for those guilty of crimes. This Law though did stand for 1,400 years before Christ. The Law did stand for justice, and it gave those that were hurt the right to repay the effects of their deeds back on those who hurt them. This verse and concept of mercy are radical compared to the Law previously given. Now that we understand our terms and how they interact with the Law, we can move forward and try to understand what Jesus is asking from us in this verse.
The following section of Scripture really interprets this verse.
Matthew 18:21-22. Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
In old rabbinic teachings, all the teachers suggested that people should be generous and forgive their brothers up to three times. Peter was actually being generous compared to the cultural norm of the day. Jesus tells him not even the seven times would work. Jesus asked for 77 times, which completely blew the cultural norm and rabbinic teachings out of the water.
I don’t want to cast Peter in too negative of a light for asking this question. I believe that God created us to have boundaries. Boundaries are necessary to actually love those around us and for us to love God properly. Bad boundaries can lead to us enabling those around us and hurting them where we think that we are helping them.
Jesus was using this as an opportunity to teach the disciples about God’s mercy and the love and compassion we should have for others.
Let’s continue on and examine the parable that Jesus supplies Peter to further
Matthew 18:23-25. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to
The amount of money owed by the servant was exorbitant. The amount of money is something that probably could never really be repaid, and we should keep this in mind as we continue to read the parable. The punishment issued for the lack of repayment wasn’t overly harsh. It was completely within the right of the king to issue this punishment to the servant. The king had the right to demand this. By asking for this much money then not repaying it, the servant was convicting himself and his family of this consequence.
Matthew 18:26-27. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
The servant doing all he can in this situation begs the king for mercy. The servant asks simply that the king give him more time, and he promises to repay him everything. The king goes even beyond what the servant asks for and forgives him the debt. The king shows the servant even more mercy than the servant asked for. The merciful thing to do here is to have patience with the man and let him repay all that he owes. The king shows the servant mercy upon mercy or grace upon grace and completely forgives him the debt. This amount of money probably cost the king and hurt him.
Matthew 18:28-30. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
The same servant in this parable had a peer who owed him money, and instead of showing the same mercy that he had received from the king, he punished his fellow servant by throwing him in jail until he should be repaid. The servant’s actions to his fellow servant seem in such great contrast to what the king had just done for him. The servant owed the king one hundred times more money than his peer owed him. Even with the servant’s plea, the man refused to show him compassion to just give the servant more time to repay. It seems like such a great injustice when it is viewed through
Matthew 18:31-35. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Here we have the king receiving news of what the servant had done to his fellow servant. The king had the expectation that as he had showed mercy, the servant would use the same mercy to his fellow brother. The king ends up throwing him in jail until the man should repay all that he owed.
The parable very clearly states that as you been forgiven by God, you should forgive others. As you have been shown mercy, you should give mercy.
In my experience in life, this is easier said than done, especially with those who are close to us, like our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends. My experience working with teenagers with complex trauma has completely changed the way that I view this parable, compassion, mercy, and grace. It has given me great insight into my own trauma and reactions to others as well.
Have you ever seen someone react in a way that seems completely unwarranted to the situation that happened? They say hurtful, nasty things, maybe even show violence towards you or the things near you.
The saying rings true that “hurt people hurt people.” In my experience as someone who has teenagers on a daily basis saying hurtful things to them, it is absolutely true. Also in my experience, it is the ability to overcome the emotions that the words stimulate and forgive and not personalize the attack that has allowed me to have influence in a person’s life. I believe that compassion on those who are around us and react out of their hurt is the greatest witness for the gospel that we have.
I would love to write all about my knowledge on trauma and how hurt people who try to hurt people really just need the greatest amount of forgiveness that we can give out, but I don’t want to write a thesis paper. Maybe in the future.
I am going to leave it at this point. We have been forgiven an incredible amount from our God who sent His son to die for our sins. This same measure of mercy should be used on those hurting people who react out of anger and hostility. The same ones who hurt us the most need the greatest amount of love, compassion, mercy, and grace. This forgiveness is not completely enabling when done in the right way. When done in the right way, it can be the relationship that helps this person work through that trauma and pain to healing. In the same way as I see the pains from past experiences distributed onto me through insults and violence, I also see healing slowly day by day through the mercy and forgiveness that I show to the kids and in the development of our
Next time you receive an insult or are hurt by another, look at it as a chance to put the power of the gospel on full display for others to see through mercy.