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Sister Doreen’s Reflections

Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.

“Mercy within mercy within mercy.”
(Thomas Merton)

Just a reminder: Blessed, what does Jesus intend by using this paradoxical word?  In trying to understand the focus of the beatitudes I think that it is important to consider the meaning and the intent of this first word which we translate ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’.

  • In Greek the first word is MAKAROI – which helps us understand people enjoying a deep inner joy, a lasting spiritual experience, like the inner joy that continues to grow deeper as life experience grows. It is an experience of life at its best and a call to do something about it!  For example, perhaps a more real translation would be: get up, go ahead, and do something.  Move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice.  For you shall be satisfied.  Get up, go ahead, and move.  Take action, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.

As I said, most of us don’t know what to do with the beatitudes, but they sound like a beautiful and familiar poem, or a list that makes us feel guilty because we are not good enough, meek enough.  Upon pondering the beatitudes, I really think that Jesus is saying:  “If you feel you are living in a world where you don’t fit in, start creating a new, more loving world.  God and the kingdom of heaven are doing it with you.  Act like you belong to God’s kingdom.  Do something beautiful with God.”

And so pondering Merton’s quote: “Mercy within mercy within mercy.”’ The most commonly used Hebrew word for mercy is ‘khesed’ and can also be translated by the words tenderness, kindness, graciousness, loving kindness, and self-giving, unconditional love. I find that this beatitude also moves me to consider the word compassion, for it reminds me that we are not alone in this blessedness. I think that we all yearn for someone to be with us in the hard times, and this is the gift that I find in this beatitude. 

There is a two-fold blessing.  I know that my own yearning for someone to be with me in hard times opens my usual barriers and allows others to offer compassion, mercy, loving kindness.  And the reverse also happens, my own usual boundaries are stretched and opened in ways that I see opportunities to connect with others in compassion and loving kindness.

But I also believe that this is a hard virtue, an unpopular virtue, even though it sounds like a soft quality.  How hard it is not to judge things we know little about, how hard it is not to see only one side.  We want mercy for ourselves but so often we resist extending it to others.

This is one beatitude that makes it clear that God’s love makes us inseparable from each other for through Jesus God has taken all of humankind within God’s self.  And it also makes clear that what we are called to become is people living the mercy of God, a love and compassion that is infinite and tenacious, a love which does not let us let go of each other.

This is a beatitude that teaches us:

  • The gift of receiving, even as we understand what we have been taught that it is more blessed to give than to receive.  Mercy requires that we learn also to receive, it is an exchange of compassion and mercy that brings about blessedness
  • It allows everyone to be seen for who they are, to be seen and heard.
  • To gather strength from each other, a solidarity and connection so that we can care for each other and publicly advocate for others
  • Encouragement, empathy, and hope – mercy, compassion, love seeks us out and finds us wherever we are:  so it is with God’s love, so it is with our relationships with each other.

Whenever we say the Lord’s prayer we are asking for the same measure of mercy from God that we give to each other.  Mercy is so essential to human life and so often missing in our relationships with each other. It brings us to the challenge of the gospel according to St Matthew in chapter 25: 31-46 which outlines the works of mercy – any action of caring for others, especially those who are most easily ignored, dehumanized, or made into targets of anger rather than love … “truly I say to you, whatever you did to the least person, you did for me” … For they shall obtain mercy – “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of human kind conceived, what is prepared for those who love God” (1Cor. 2:9)

This is the beatitude that is most concerned with cautioning us that our righteousness must not be allowed to make us hard and ungenerous.  It encourages us to honesty of vision, to mercy, to the possibility of new hope.  What mercy glimpses is the whole world made new.  It is not a soft option but the hard truth that in the power of God the promise of creation still stands and the seed of new creation waits to germinate.  It is this quality of mercy – of care – that enables me to become a sister or brother to everyone in the world in such a way that I share God’s very blessedness.  By showing mercy, mercy is shown to me. it is central to community living.

Over and over again Jesus told gospel stories that were coloured with mercy.  Jesus did not wish that the crowds – a symbol for humanity in need – should be left without healing their brokenness (Matthew 15:29-31); should ever be left without food (Matthew 28:18-20) and Jesus said then, as Jesus says now, ‘give them something yourselves”. Hearing they (we) are to use our own resources on behalf of those in need, will our response be the same as theirs? “We have only our limited resources …”.  This beatitude makes it clear that with God we have power to transform even that smallness into a miracle to care for the world.

As said before, It was Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” We are continually invited to share even the little we may have with others.

Hymn # 591 from Common Praise:

“Our cities cry to you, O God, from out of their pain and strife; you made us for yourself alone, but we choose empty life. Our goals are pleasure, gold, and power; injustice stalks our earth; in vain we seek for rest, for joy, for sense of human worth.

Yet still your walk our streets, O Christ! We know your presence here, where humble Christians’ love and serve in godly grace and fear. O Word made flesh, be seen in us! May all we say and do affirm you God incarnate still and turn sad hearts to  you!

Your people are your hands and feet to serve your world today; our lives, the book our cities read to help them find your way. O pour your sovereign Spirit out on heart and will and brain: inspire your church with love and power to ease our cities’ pain!

O healing Saviour, Prince of Peace, salvation’s source and sum, for you our broken cities cry – O come, Lord Jesus, come! With truth your royal diadem, with righteousness your rod, O come Lord Jesus, bring to earth the city of our God!”