The word translated as “Blessed” with which each Beatitudes begans, seems to be a promise of things to come. But the word is better translated as “O the bliss...” Bliss is a word that properly belongs only to the gods. Yet, Jesus is stating that it is his followers’ now. As William Barclay says, “...The Beatitudes are not promises of future happiness...they are affirmations of the bliss into which the Christian can enter here and now.”
Today’s Beatitude: The Kind Heart
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Matt 5:7
Did you know that the word mercy is found more than 150 times in the Old Testament? Nine-tenths of those times, the word refers to God’s mercy. The Hebrew word chesedh, which is translated as mercy in these instances may not give us the full range of meaning of the word. For the most part, we moderns think of mercy as relaxing a penalty or demand which could be enforced. We “throw ourselves on the mercy of the court” to obtain a lesser sentence than might otherwise be handed out. So mercy has the idea of agreeing to not treat someone with the severity or stern justice which is deserved.
But the Hebrew word is much more positive than that. The word includes the meaning of “kindness” and this is the basic meaning of the word. When chesedh is translated this way, it carries the idea of something active. As Barclay put it, “...when used of God, [it] is the outgoing kindness of the heart of God. It is the basis of God’s whole relationship to [us], and especially of his relationship to” Israel.
Mercy belongs to God and God delights in it (Isa 62.12, Micah 7:18). God’s mercy is so infinite that it reaches to heaven (Psalm 36:5); so enduring it lasts forever (Psalm 89:1,2). God is said to be “plenteous” in mercy (Psalm 21:7). God’s mercy gives hope (Psalm 33: 5). This list goes on. Knowing this about God, Moses can appeal to God’s longsuffering nature and great mercy to ask forgiveness when the Israelites sin against God.
Mercy in the Old Testament is connected to God’s fidelity and steadfastness in relating to creation, including humankind. God is faithful and keeps his covenant with those who love him (Duet. 7:9). The idea of covenant is central to the whole story of the Old Testament. God graciously entered into a special relationship with the people of Israel in which he would be their God and they would be his people--a covenant which God initiated! This is the clear example of God’s outgoing love of God of his own.
The covenant carried with it a condition: God’s people would be obedient, specifically, they would keep the Torah. Repeatedly, in the story, we see that mercy is shown especially to those who love God and keep the commandments (Exodus 20:6). “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Here we see then, that if God is to show mercy toward humankind, it is expected that humankind do the same, that is, show mercy in their relationships. Micah says that showing such mercy is required.
Jesus speaks this Beatitude in a world in which toleration for differences was nearly impossible to obtain. Jews and Gentiles had little use for each other. Romans ruled with an inflexible iron fist. Rebellions weren’t just put down; they were crushed. Jerusalem wasn’t just defeated in the rebellion of 66-70 AD. Jerusalem and it’s temple were obliterated and the people scattered. In this kind of world, Jesus says, “O the bliss of those whose outgoing love for others reflects and reproduces the outgoing love of God, for they will be loved completely and unconditionally by God.”
Clearly Jesus was calling his contemporaries and us to act in a counter-cultural way. No wonder outgoing love is so hard to show or to find.