Archive

Archive for February 25th, 2010

The Merciful

February 25th, 2010

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.

Matthew 5:7

 

The first four beatitudes are the journey down in humility before God. The second four are the journey up in being outfitted spiritually for duty for God. The first four establish our need and empty us of our pride; the second four focus on the practical result of the power of God coming into our lives. Upon each step of the four going down we gain the blessings of God, and at each step of the four going up we take God’s blessings to others. The first four are about us and God; the second four are about God in us for the world.

 

The Parable of the Prodigal Son depicts a life that had gone down the first four of these, and the blessings that they bring. He came home to the Father in utter poverty, but he encountered a gracious reception. So we come to God in admission of our lack of anything that would commend us to His holiness, in utter spiritual poverty and find that He opens for us the kingdom of heaven. The Prodigal came home in grief for the terrible financial loss he had endured, but his father prepared to celebrate his home-coming. So we come to God mourning our sinfulness, even the sinfulness of the whole world, and find the joy and comfort of God stirring in our souls.

 

The Prodigal came home in humility, having had to admit his foolishness, his failures, and that his woes were his own doing, but his father restored to him the position of honor as his son. So, we come to the God in utter humility and find that God promises that we shall reign with Him in glory. The Prodigal came home hungry and thirsty for the father’s provisions he had earlier despised and rejected, but he found that his father was prepared to let him feast again at his table. So we come to God having chased a thousand unholy fantasies to their fruitless and unfulfilling outcome, but discover a bountiful supply of grace and love reserved for us from God. We are very much like an army of Prodigals who stumble across the Father’s threshold in failure and disgrace but discover the kindness and love of God being expressed toward us.

 

The journey up toward power begins with the last words of the fourth beatitude, “they will be filled.” This is more than mere soul satisfaction. It is about the righteousness of God filling us and transforming us, making us fit for God’s use. Paul wrote, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). The world seeks to squeeze us into its mold; it encourages us to model our thoughts and our lives after its own values. The old sinful nature is still residing within the believer, and it is beyond taming and can only be dealt with by crucifixion, by reckoning ourselves “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). Just as the Prodigal was separated from his old life when he returned, he considered himself dead to the pig farmer whose animals he had fed, and dead also to the prostitutes with whom he squandered his father’s wealth, so we must reckon ourselves dead to the ways of the world that we have known, and to the ways of the world that we have not yet known.

 

We are now filling ourselves with the good things of God and the outcome is true inward satisfaction and a new usefulness to God. The life of the resurrected Christ is now our reality and we no longer think like the world but we are being transformed from within by the Spirit of God. The first reality of this new life that Christ addressed was mercy. This includes such ideas as patience toward the faults of others, not losing our temper when people annoy us, and being kind when we don’t really feel like it. But yet these ideas are not the heart of the spiritual trait that Christ was teaching. To be merciful as He was using the term means to be so burdened by the sufferings and problems of others that we must take action to help relieve them. It includes such passive ideas as politeness and holding our anger, but it is much more about the active concepts of reaching out in compassion toward others.

 

To be truly merciful requires, absolutely requires, that we do not dwell upon receiving some reward for being so. Christ promises a reward, as with all the beatitudes, but those who look for the reward and only act mercifully for the sake of the reward are normally anything but truly merciful. Mercy comes as a trait of God and thereby of His children. The proclamation on Sinai reverberated this reality of God: “The compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). Concerning our merciful God we read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Mercy is so disturbed by the plight of another that it is willing to take sacrificial actions to remedy the problem.

 

We never hear of the life of the Prodigal beyond his reception by his father, but in another sense we know him only too well and see his face every time we look in a mirror. We can imagine him now having a greater understanding and compassion toward others who had made disastrous mistakes in their lives. We will be disappointed in him if he were anything less, to see him act toward another person with the same judgmental attitude that his older brother demonstrated toward him. He of all people has a basis to be merciful. I like to think of him as becoming a missionary and going out into the highways and back roads of the world looking for other prodigals estranged from their fathers, seeking to bring them back home as well, or becoming a counselor that specializes in family problems and helps people put their lives back together.

 

How about you and me? We have received the mercy of God through Jesus Christ, who suffered pain, shame, and even separation from the Father on the cross. God who has every reason and right to condemn us, has instead taken it upon Himself to save us. Should we who have secret sins hidden in the dusty corners of our personal histories be anything but merciful to others? Our mercy toward our fellow human beings is evidence of our faith and salvation. If we are merciful we will think and act in the same spirit as Paul who wrote, “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).

 

But there is a reward promised for the merciful, that we shall receive mercy as well. This is a call to see the world through different eyes, through the eyes of the Father, to see the needs of every person, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. The merciful have grasped the truth that only in the grace of God found in Christ Jesus is there eternal hope for any living soul. It sees that mercy also as what they need. The merciful as Christ described are not the people who comfortably live in one universe of plenty while throwing scraps toward those who live in the other universe of need. Rather it is the people who have grasped the need that we all have of the mercy and grace of God. Whatever economic realities there be that separate people from one another, count for nothing as we stand before God in need of His mercy. And having received mercy in Christ, we discover that these outward differences also melt away between believers in light of His love for us all.

 

Christ said, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). The merciful have taken the first step up the pathway toward power for God: they have begun to think about others and not just themselves. They live in the reality of both their need for grace before God and in the availability of this grace from God, and they share what they have received with others. They live with confidence that it is more blessed to give than to receive and that God watches over their lives. They are freed from selfish worry and freed to mercifully love others.

 

Prayer:

 

Lord, thank You for Your mercy. Lay the needs of others upon our hearts. Let us have insight into the depth of Your love for this world, and to follow You as you lead us forward to serve. Make us true ambassadors of Christ.  Amen.

 

Evening Devotionals, Lenten Devotionals (Fastenzeit) ,