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Digging deeper into grace (01/10/2018)

One of the most hope-filled—and most challenging—Beatitudes is the 5th Beatitude (in Matthew 5:1-12): “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

The mercy Jesus speaks of here is not feeling sorry for a person or taking pity on someone. Nor does it have to do with overlooking a person’s wrongs or pretending that the wrong a person did is ‘fine.’

William Barclay points out, “The Hebrew word for mercy is chesedh…. Chesedh, mercy, means the ability to get right inside the other person’s skin until we can see things with his [or her] eyes, think things with his [or her] mind, and feel things with his [or her] feelings.
“Clearly this is much more than an emotional wave of pity; clearly this demands a quite deliberate effort of the mind and of the will. It denotes a sympathy which is not given, as it were, from outside, but which comes from a deliberate identification with the other person, until we see things as he [or she] sees them, and feel things as he [or she] feels them. This is sympathy in the literal sense of the word. Sympathy is derived from two Greek words, syn which means together with, and paschein which means to experience or to suffer. Sympathy means experiencing things together with the other person, literally going through what he [or she] is going through.

“This is precisely what many people do not even try to do. Most people are so concerned with their own feelings that they are not much concerned with the feelings of anyone else. When they are sorry for someone, it is, as it were, from the outside; they do not make the deliberate effort to get inside the other person’s mind and heart, until they see and feel things as he [or she] sees and feels them.”

Jesus is the great embodiment of such mercy. To identify with us fully—to see things as we see them and to feel things as we feel them—God got inside of human skin in Jesus. He didn’t just feel sorry for us or take pity on us; God made “the deliberate effort” to identify with us—to share in our human experience.

In this 5th Beatitude, Jesus calls us to do the same. He calls us to care enough about others—even as He did—to “make the deliberate effort to get inside the other person’s mind and heart” until we can “see and feel things as he [or she] sees and feels them.”
Such mercy is not easy. It requires an open heart. It requires listening ears. It requires time and energy spent with a person. It requires a willingness to let our hearts be broken by another.

Pope Francis stresses, “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life…. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.”

Wouldn’t it be great to see more mercy in our world in 2018? Well, it begins with each of us. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” ■

—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa.

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