Blessed are the merciful,Matthew 5:7
for they will be shown mercy.
Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day here in the south of England. It was certainly cold, but nevertheless the sun was shining. I found myself in Brighton with my friend Howard, and we strolled along the promenade and to the end of the pier and back in the glorious sunshine. One of the things I always notice when I go to Brighton is the extent of the homeless problem; it seems that you can’t walk more than a few metres without finding someone bundled up in a pile of sleeping bags, sheltering in the doorway of a building. I’ve never really known what to do when encountering a homeless person on the street; my instinct is to give them money, but at the same time I find myself thinking that this isn’t dealing with the root cause of homelessness.
Of course, many churches now support homeless people by running night shelters, which provide beds for those who need them, as well as helping people to resolve the issues that are at the root of their problems. It is great to see churches taking a lead in providing this sort of service, since it is this practical support that I believe Jesus is advocating in the beatitude above.
As followers of Christ, we are expected to be merciful – to show mercy to those around us. If we show mercy, then we will be blessed by God because he, too, will show us mercy. Mercy here means being willing to forgive those who wrong us, since we have been forgiven infinitely more by God. But mercy here, I believe, also has more positive connotations; we are called to show mercy to those who find themselves in difficult, uncomfortable or even painful circumstances. This extends to being merciful to the homeless people we encounter on our streets, but also to those who are suffering as a consequence of illness, stress, relationship breakdown, economic hardship or any other number of other afflictions. In a sinful world, the tendency is to ignore the plight of others – especially those with whom we do not have direct contact – yet here, once again, Christ’s followers are called to take a counter-cultural stance. We are expected to make ‘being merciful’ to others as a key priority for our lives.
What is the end result for us if we are merciful to those around us? Well, we, in turn, will be shown mercy by God. He will support us, protect us, encourage us, and provide for us when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances. And ultimately he will show us mercy by welcoming us into his new creation. Whilst being merciful is not our ticket to salvation – that comes only as a result of a personal relationship with Jesus Chris, our saviour – mercy will be a key character trait for those who genuinely know and follow Christ.
How merciful are you do you think? Are you closer to the world or to the kingdom of God in your application of mercy? Why not join me in praying today that Jesus, through his Spirit, will enable us to be more merciful to those who need to be shown mercy? Why not pray that he will transform our lives in order that we might transform the lives of others?