Theology 101

Blessed are the MERCIFUL

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us the beatitudes. One of these beatitudes is of special interest for us during this Jubilee Year of Mercy: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” (Mt 5:7) Here Jesus seems to make being merciful the condition for receiving mercy. Why might this be the case?

The chain of cause and effect

One of the keys to this beatitude is the principle that like produces like; like demands like. For example, love awakens love; hate produces hate; anger elicits anger; and joy brings forth joy. The Old Testament, in fact, provides us with a clear expression of this principle when it calls for an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.

Of course, this has serious implications. Disorder cannot produce order. Violence cannot produce peace.  “Bad” cannot produce “good.”  However, if this is true, what are we to do?

 

Breaking the chain

For order to be established or restored, the chain of disorder must be interrupted. One has to create a pause so that something new can break in. This is what Jesus teaches us repeatedly in the Gospels. Jesus asks us to cause a pause when we encounter violence, persecution and other disorders.

Here are just a few examples to illustrate the point: when someone strikes you on one cheek, give them the other; when someone takes your coat, give them your shirt; when pressed into service for one mile, go two. In other words, do not respond in kind. Do not contribute to the disorder, but break the chain so that order might be restored. Cause a pause by loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you.

Jesus’ parables functioned in much the same way. He would begin with the familiar. As He weaved His story, the audience surely must have been confident in terms of where it would end. However, at just the right moment, Jesus would introduce a twist. The result was to cause a pause in the stream of consciousness of the listener.

All of this is to say that we must be merciful in order to produce that environment in which we, too, encounter mercy. If we hope to receive mercy, we must first be merciful, as like produces like.

 

On a ‘related’ note

Another key to understanding this beatitude is that we exist in relationship. In short, to “be” is to be related. Nothing exists in isolation. This means, among other things, that every act is an act in relationship. Individual decisions and relationships create the society in which one lives. This society then acts back upon the individual in a like manner.

Once we understand that ultimately every action we take also represents a “yes” or “no” to communion with God, neighbor, self and creation, the wisdom of the golden rule comes into fuller relief. “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Mt 7:12 cf. Lk 6:31) – but we cannot stop here.

The Gospels go on to give us pretty clear reasons why this rule is so important: “ …  forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors … (Mt 6:12); and “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you … For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out of you.” (Lk 6:37-38)

We should do to others what we want them to do to us because what we do to others will be done to us – eternally! In essence, what we do to others we ultimately do to ourselves. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

 

The next level

“On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’” (Acts 9:3-4)

Notice that Jesus does not ask Saul why he was persecuting the people, or more precisely his followers. Rather, Jesus’ question reveals that the persecution being inflicted upon others was, in fact, being inflicted upon Him.

So where does this bring us? We should do to others what we want them to do to us, because what we do to others will be done to us (i.e., we do it to ourselves). What’s more, what we do to others, and thereby ourselves, we also do to Jesus Christ. We need only look to Matthew 25:40 and 25:45 for an explicit confirmation of this truth: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for Me,” and, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for Me.”

DOUG CULP is the CAO and secretary for pastoral life for the Diocese of Lexington, Ky. He holds an MA in theology from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago

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