Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Part 3: Mercy

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.   (Matthew 5:7-8)

Before tackling these verses, let's review the first few steps of the blessing-process again (Matthew 5:1-6).  First, make the commitment to follow Jesus.  Then, take a moment to compare yourself with him and admit that you are spiritually bankrupt.  Allow that fact to break your heart so that Jesus can come alongside you and fill you with his strength. Submit to his authority; let him be the one to decide how that new-found strength should be used.  Under God's guidance, practice righteousness until you not only develop a taste for it, but also thirst for it to the point that it becomes your biggest craving (even more than chocolate).  Jesus has promised
to fill you to overflowing with his righteousness if you really want him to.

But then what?  You have righteousness...so what do you do with it?  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it's at this point that a Christ-follower is most likely to fall into the worst sin of all: usurping God's throne.

Human beings are funny creatures.  We sin.  Sometimes we see our sin, but most of the time we don't.  When other people do the same thing, however, we see the sin quite clearly -- in them.  Psychologists call this tendency "projection."  (Before you jump to the conclusion that I am merely projecting my own hypocrisy onto other people, read Romans 2:1-3. Unless God is mistaken, we are all guilty of this.)  The next few blessings of the Beatitudes deal with our tendency to get judgmental -- the natural result of becoming righteous.  Jesus doesn't want his followers to live a natural life, though; he wants us to live a supernatural life.

Human beings are funny creatures...it bears repeating.  Those who should be most likely to extend mercy are often the last ones to do so.  Ex-smokers tend to be the least forgiving when a smoker lights up in a no-smoking zone.  In fact, ex-anythings tend to have the least patience for those who are still enslaved to the "anything."  Human nature says, "If I could beat it, you should be able to, also...if you were really trying."  This is especially true where unrighteousness is the "anything."  Look at a few of the examples in the Bible:

With friends like these...
The older brother of the prodigal son grew positively angry when his good-for-nothing brother got the red carpet treatment (Luke 15:25-30); Jonah pitched a hissy fit when God decided to spare the people of Ninevah (Jonah 4:1-3); Job's three "friends" lit into him repeatedly when he refused to admit he was wrong (Job 4:7-8, 8:1-2, 11:1-3, etc.); and the Pharisees looked down on everyone who fell short of their standards -- including Jesus (John 9:16, 24)!

Jesus tells us, however, that we are to show mercy to those around us.  Being filled with righteousness should not make us scorn the unrighteous, but should prompt us to extend mercy to them.  Mercy is more than forgiveness; it involves a degree of empathy and compassion.  Mercy says, "There but for the grace of God go I," and mercy means it.  Rather than assuming that others simply aren't trying very hard to be righteous, mercy gives people the benefit of the doubt.  Mercy recognizes the truth that only God can see into a man's heart, and therefore only God has the right to sit on the Judgment Throne.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Rather than projecting our sins onto others, we need to project our God-given righteousness.  Let me explain what I mean by that.  If I am prone to lying, I will naturally assume that the people around me are lying to me.  If I am a thief, I will constantly worry that others are trying to rip me off.  If I am a gossip, I will worry that others are talking about me behind my back.  (Did I mention that humans are funny creatures?)  But what if, instead of looking for my own shortcomings in those around me, I looked for the godliness in them?

That's a rough area for many people, because it is easier for us to feel good about ourselves when those around us are obviously worse than we are.  If everyone around me is godly, I might start feeling like I just don't measure up.  (Oh, wait!  What was that bit about being "poor in spirit"?  Time to go back to step two again...)  But projection works in reverse, too, and we need to remember that!  To constantly judge others' sins really just shows how many sins I have.  On the other hand, if my motives are pure rather than self-serving, and I regularly allow myself to see the good in people, maybe that means that there is some good in me, too.

You may find this hard to believe, but even Nero, Hitler, Jezebel, and bin Laden had some degree of godliness.  I can say this with assurance, because they were human beings, and God created human beings in His image.  Eminem, Madonna, and Lady Gaga have some degree of godliness.  Your foul-mouthed next door neighbor has some degree of godliness.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

I want to see God, and I don't want to have to wait for Christ's return (or my physical death) before I can see Him.  I want to see God now.  How many times have I prayed, "God, please let people see Jesus in me"?  Maybe what I need to be praying is, "God let me see Jesus in the people around me, even the ones who don't know You."  If I show mercy to those around me and project my God-given purity onto them (rather than my self-centered sinfulness), then I will begin to see God in them.  Imagine for just a moment walking into a room -- maybe the office where you work, or the check-out line at Walmart, or your classroom -- and being surrounded by God instead of a bunch of liars, cheats, thieves, gossips, and foul-mouths.  Wouldn't that be nice?  Wouldn't that be a blessing

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff, Dee! I really love our studies. :)

    ReplyDelete