THE BEATITUDES
Lesson # 7
God's Plan for a Transformed Heart and Life:
Blessed are the Merciful

Father,
Your generosity and mercy know no bounds and all You ask is that we show the same love and mercy to our brothers and sisters in the human family. Why is it that something that should be so simply seems to be so hard? It is easy to love those who love us, Lord, but hard to love those who refuse our love or those whom society has deemed unworthy of love. In those cases, Lord, teach us to love, knowing that Your Son loved the ones we are challenged to love enough to die on the cross for them. Help us to sing the love song of His Passion and to show His mercy to those most in need of love. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

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BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL

Give to everyone who asks you, for truly this is the way that God loves to give.
St. Clement of Alexandria

Be merciful in order that you might receive mercy. Bishop St. Polycarp, Epistle 2.3

Be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. Jesus in Luke 6:36

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. Matthew 5:7

Through the miracle of the Eucharist we are filled with the humanity and divinity of Christ. With Jesus living within us it is our desire to be more like Him. Just has He shared His merciful love with everyone so now we too, in our love for Him, feel the desire to let His mercy flow through us to everyone we meet.

The Greek word used for "merciful" in this passage is the adjective eleemon [el-eh-ay'-mone]. In the Old Testament Hebrew being "merciful" meant the outward manifestation of pity, but in the New Covenant this expression of mercy and pity is to be expressed by one who is actively compassionate as God is actively compassionate "a compassion generated internally but expressed externally as acts of mercy. Although compassion, a feeling of sympathy, is part of mercy [com meaning "with", and passion meaning "suffering" so "with suffering"], mercy differs from compassion in that mercy is the active practice of compassion in the readiness to assist those in need. Therefore, the "merciful" are those who are not passive in showing love and compassion but who take an active role in bringing aid to those who suffer. This same Greek word for "mercy" is used to describe Jesus Christ as our High Priest in Hebrews 2:17 and it is used for those who are called to live lives of mercy and compassion "like God" as here in Matthew 5:7 as well as in Luke 6:35-36 which ends with the command "Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful."

Question: Was showing mercy and forgiveness to others an integral part of the Old Covenant obligations?
Answer: Yes, the command You shall love your neighbor as yourself in Leviticus 19:18b demonstrated the call to mercy.

Question: As the Israelites interpreted the Law was there any limitation applied to this outpouring of mercy? How did the Israelites interpret the command to love one's neighbor?
Answer: In the Old Covenant the Israelites interpreted the designation "neighbor" as being restricted to those who were members of the Sinai Covenant. Jesus' teaching contrary to this concept is what led an expert on the Mosaic Law to ask Jesus: Who is my neighbor? in Luke 10:29.

Question: Give an example of how God demonstrated, through the covenant obligations under the Law of Moses, that the children of Israel were required to show mercy to covenant brothers and sisters?
Answer: The obligations of the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee year were meant to teach the children of Israel to show the same mercy and forgiveness to each other that God had shown to them during the Exodus experience.

Jesus intensifies, internalizes, and internationalized the Old Covenant command to show mercy and forgiveness. Jesus rejected the notion of the Old Covenant people of God that mercy was only limited to their own people when He taught on the question "who is my neighbor" in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. As you read this parable it is important to understand that to the righteous Jew/Israelite a Samaritan was at best a half-breed heretic. For a covenant believer to come into intimate contact with a Samaritan would leave a covenant believer ritually "unclean" and therefore unable to worship in the Temple unless one was purified. To come in contact with a sinner, or one afflicted with a skin disease, or blood, or a dead body left one ritually impure and essentially cut-off from the community until one would be purified through holy water under the purification rites of the Sinai Covenant (see Numbers 5:1-4; 19:1-22).

Background on the Samaritans: In 722BC the Assyrian army had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-6). As was their custom the Assyrians exiled the entire population of Israelites, except for a very few left behind to serve the Assyrian masters (17:23). In place of the exiled 10 tribes of Israel the Assyrians imported 5 eastern tribes to work the land (17:24). Each tribe brought with them the worship of their 5 principle gods but they also adopted the worship of the local God, Yahweh (17:25-41). These foreign people, who came to be called Samaritans (after the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Samaria), did not worship Yahweh as directed under the Sinai Covenant, instead they interpreted the worship of Yahweh for themselves choose their own priests and setting up their own temple on Mt. Gerizim. The chronicler of 2 Kings concludes: Thus these nations venerated the LORD, but also served their idols. And their sons and grandsons, to this day, are doing as their fathers did. The Samaritans came to accept the first five books of the Bible as inspired Scripture, the Torah of Moses, but rejected the rest of the Old Testament canon. There was great enmity between Jews/ Israelites and Samaritans "so much enmity in fact that the Old Covenant people avoided passing through Samaria because they were likely to be robbed or killed.

Question: Did Jesus consider the Samaritans to be a people of God's Holy Covenant? See Jesus reply to the Samaritan woman in John 4: 20-24. What does He tell her concerning her people and the future of the Covenant?
Answer: John 4:22: You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. Jesus dismisses the religion of the Samaritans as being outside the covenant and a perversion through their lack of understanding. However, He continues with the promise that one day the Covenant of God will be extended beyond Israel. At that time the Spirit, given by God that reveals truth and enables one to worship God with a full understanding of His Covenant, would teach everyone to worship in "Spirit and truth".

Please read the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37.

Question: Why would the example of the Samaritan's mercy to a Jew have been shocking to the Jewish and Israelite crowd?
Answer: Jesus used a heretic to set the standard for forgiveness and compassion indicating that the standard for a Covenant believer should be even higher! Both the Levite, a teacher of the Law, and the priest failed to show compassion either because they were afraid of robbers or perhaps their failure to show mercy was a result of their concern that the ritual impurity from contact with a bleeding body, dead or alive would contaminate them. In either case, their selfish concerns or their rigid adherence to the "letter of the law" became a hindrance to their obligation to the "spirit of the law" in the covenant command to show mercy.

Question: What is Jesus' teaching on mercy and forgiveness in this parable? To whom does God's command to show love and mercy extend "who is the New Covenant believer's neighbor? Please read Luke 6:35-36 to help you with your answer.
Answer: In Luke 6:35-36 as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus extends the application of mercy and love to embrace all men, friends and brothers as well as enemies. Love and mercy must not be limited to external acts of charity but love and mercy must come from the heart of the New Covenant believer. In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus teaches, But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful. Everyone in God's creation is the New Covenant believer's neighbor and is deserving of love, mercy and compassion, and one's merciful response to someone in need is not determined by one's own convenience or inconvenience. See CCC #581; 1829; 2447.

Question: Is this parable and Jesus' teaching in Luke 6:35-36 is an answer to Cain's question to God in Genesis 4:9? What did Cain ask and what is the answer to his question?
Answer: Cain asked God, Am I my brother's keeper? The answer is "YES"!

FOR THEY SHALL OBTAIN MERCY

Love itself is the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it. In it we shall find rest. St. Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John, 10.4

Writing of Jesus' humanity: ...therefore, he had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. Hebrews 2:17-18

So speak and so act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom. For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-13

 

Question: What is the 5th petition of the "Our Father" prayer? See Matthew 9-13.
Answer: And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Question: What is it that is implied in the second phrase of this petition that will not be granted if we fail to forgive our trespasses?
Answer: Our petition for forgiveness will not be heard unless we first forgive others who have wronged us. It is interesting that this is the 5th petition. In the significance of numbers in Scripture, 5 is the number signifying grace.

This petition is so important that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus will return to address this particular petition on granting mercy and forgiveness after finishing the Our Father prayer in Matthew 6: 14-15, and Jesus will continue teaching the importance of extending God's mercy to us in our relationships with others throughout His ministry. An example of Jesus' commitment to mercy as a necessary Christian virtue can be found in the parable of the Ungrateful Servant, also know as the Parable of the Merciless Servant.

Please read Matthew 18:23-35: The Parable of the Ungrateful or Merciless Servant

Question: What was the Ungrateful Servant's sin and what was the broader implication of this sin in his relationship with his master/ God?
Answer: He failed to show the same mercy to a fellow servant who owed him a very little compared to the mercy shown to him by his master to whom he owed a great deal.

Question: How does Jesus end this teaching on mercy and forgiveness? What is His warning?
Answer: The merciless servant is cast into "prison" and Jesus warns: So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

Don't misunderstand this parable; God's forgiveness is unconditional. Jesus paid the price for our sins on the Cross once and for all, but the sin of our unforgiveness to others can separate us from God's forgiveness. God in His mercy has forgiven us so much more than we could ever repay. Our sin in refusing to forgive our brother or sister in the family of Adam can become an impediment to the mercy and forgiveness God has made possible to us through the sacrifice of His Son. Our refusal to forgive blocks our reception of His mercy and forgiveness. God's forgiveness doesn't enter us unless through Christ we become channels of mercy and forgiveness. St Paul, who knew first hand the depth of God's forgiveness, wrote: And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ (Ephesians 4:32). Even when it is hard to forgive for our own sake, we are still called to the unity of forgiveness that is in Jesus Christ for His love and forgiveness is "the love that loves to the end": ...Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end" (John 13:1).

Question: How far are we required to go in our mercy and forgiveness? Must we forgive our greatest enemy?
Answer: When we forgive those who have hurt us deeply we cooperate in God's grace. Forgiving others allows us to see how Christ could forgive those who lied at His trial and nailed Him to the Cross "which includes all of us for we are all culpable in His death through our own sin. When we are filled with Christ's righteousness we look upon the face of our enemy and see the face of the Christ who loved and forgave. Love is stronger than sin. The sin of unforgiveness binds and wounds the soul so much more deeply than the barbs of your enemy. Forgive your enemy, set your soul free and feel the power of God's grace working in you! See CCC # 2844

Because you are God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. Colossians 3:12-13

The fifth step on the road to salvation and the fifth promise:

Blessed are the merciful: when
we show our mercy and
forgiveness à we will be
given mercy and forgiveness
through Jesus'
perfect Sacrifice
on the Cross

Questions for group discussion:

Question: What are the corporal works of mercy outlined in the New Testament and in the Catechism? How do you fulfill these works of compassion? See Matthew 6:2-4; 25:31-46; James 2:15-16; 1 John 3:17; and the CCC #2447.

Question: How do you fulfill these works of compassion? See Matthew 6:2-4; 25:31-46; James 2:15-16; 1 John 3:17; and the CCC #2447.

Question: As defined by the Church, charity is love in action in the application of showing God's love to others in need. Mercy is one of the "fruits of charity. What are the other "fruits" of charity? See CCC# 1829.

Question: What special "freedom" does the Church teach that a life animated by charity gives the Christian? See CCC# 1828.

Question: Why is one of the Virgin Mary's titles "the Mother of Mercy?" What special prayer do we address to her in her role as the Mother of Mercy? Hint: it is probably the first prayer you ever learned and the last one you will pray at the end of your life. See CCC# 2677.

Question: Are works of mercy necessary for our salvation? See CCC# 1473; 2447.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.