What We Don't Deserve

What Jesus means when he says "Blessed are the merciful."
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"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." —Matthew 5:7, ESV

At first, Matthew 5:7 seems to imply that Jesus is making a deal with us: If we go out and show mercy to others, God will show mercy to us.

And it seems like a good deal. I mean, how hard could it be to show mercy to others? So we'll practice a little mercy, and then God will act the same toward us, and all will be well with the world. And for eternity.

Except that it's not that easy to be merciful.

Your brother borrows your iPod, and when he gives it back, it doesn't play. He says, "Sorry."

You say, "'Sorry' doesn't cut it. You need to replace what you broke."

He says, "OK. That's fair. But I don't have any money till next week. And then I need to buy a gift for Mom's birthday, and I need to start saving money for the prom."

You say, "I don't care. You ruined my iPod, and you need to replace it."

He says, "I know. I'm sorry. But things are tight right now. Can't you give me a break?"

And that's when it's really hard to forgive. To let it go. To be merciful.

Just as it's hard to leave your own friends to sit down by the class reject sitting alone at lunch. Or to give your last $15 to the food drive for the hungry when you had your heart set on going to a movie with friends that afternoon. Or to want to even talk to the person who made the cut on the basketball team when you didn't.

That's when "Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy" doesn't seem like much of a good deal. It feels like a curse. All we can think about is how unmerciful we can be when we're self-centered, or indifferent, or even cruel. Then we're thinking, I'm in trouble. I'm never going to receive mercy at this rate. I don't deserve it.

And that's when the turning point comes. It's at that point that the mercy of God starts making its way into our lives. It begins by us turning that hopelessness into prayer:

"Lord, I'm in trouble. I'm self-centered. I don't deserve your mercy, but I need it."

And the Lord gives us a break. He forgives. He shows mercy.

And that's why it's easier to give your brother a break. And to practice mercy in all sorts of difficult situations. Not because we're trying to prove something, or get something from God, but simply because God has proven something to us by giving us something we didn't deserve: mercy. We become merciful because we've been shown mercy.

When Jesus says blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy, he assumes that you really can't be merciful until you've received mercy in the first place. Mercy is not a deal, but an ongoing lifestyle. We receive mercy then we show mercy and as a result we receive more mercy, and as a result, we then show more mercy—and on and on.

 It's like we're rolling a snowball downhill. We start with a small one, maybe the size of a baseball. As we toss it down the hill, immediately gravity starts to pull it farther downhill. As it rolls over, of course, it collects more snow. Now it's bigger and heavier, and so gravity pulls it even harder. It rolls over even faster, and collects more snow, and gets heavier, and rolls faster. And so on. Before you know it, it's a huge ball, bounding down the hill. That's how it is with mercy: The more we receive mercy, the more we give mercy.

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