“Blessed Is the Man who Thinkest First about Himself”

As anxiety intensifies leading up to Nov. 3, align your spirit with the Lord of peace through the Beatitudes.

Today’s beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

One writer’s reflection:

“The beatitude of this world is quite different; it runs like this: ‘Blessed is the man who thinkest first about himself.’ Life for the world is a struggle for existence in which victory belongs only to the egotists. Liberality, generosity, and graciousness are rare. How often does the world insist on its ‘rights,’ how rarely does it emphasize ‘duties;’ how often it uses the possessive ‘mine;’ and how rarely the generous ‘thine.” How full it is of the ‘courts of justice,’ but few are its ‘courts of mercy.'”

Quite a commentary on today’s society right? Except that it wasn’t about today’s society! This quote is from a book called The Cross and the Beatitudes by Catholic archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, written in 1937!

To those who say our world is more merciless than ever, it may be. Or today’s cutthroat, take-no-prisoners tone may simply be louder – amplified by social media and the 24-hour news cycle.

Humanity has struggled to be merciful for a long time. In Matthew 18, Jesus told the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. In it, a master forgives his servant of an astronomical debt. In turn, the servant finds someone who owes him a minuscule amount, begins to choke him, and demands full payment now. Mercy was scarce 2,000 years ago, too.

“Blessed are the merciful.” Rather than God commanding mercy, the beatitude can be understood as describing what a follower of Jesus is like ideally. Mercy begets mercy. God has shown us mercy in Jesus. Now mercy is ours to share with others.

In Jesus’ parable, the master is outraged to find out that his mercy had no real impact on his servant’s heart. As Concordia Seminary professor Jeff Gibbs writes, “If that mercy has its desired effect, it both forgives the debt and transforms the debtor.” (Matthew 1:1-11:1 commentary)

If a follower of Jesus is not more merciful than the rest of the world, it brings into question how much God’s grace has really taken hold on that person’s heart. Those who have forgiven much, love much.

One of my favorite Bible verses at the moment is Proverbs 19:11: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Slow to anger. Overlooking an offense. Sounds like a better way to live, doesn’t it?

Mercy is not the same as pretending something bad didn’t happen, or excusing sin, or devaluing justice. Sheen writes that true mercy “not merely pardons, but even rebuilds into justice, repentance, and love.”

Mercy seeks the best possible outcome. The best outcome is not bitterness, resentment, or hatred. The best outcome is characterized by justice, repentance, and love. Mercy often is doing the hard labor of working through problems and seeking reconciliation. Mercy is giving others the benefit of the doubt. Mercy is valuing relationships over “being right” or “winning.”

God promises that the merciful will be shown mercy. For Jesus’ followers, the mercy God will show us is a continuation of the mercy He already has shown us in our Savior. He propels us toward merciful living … a counter-cultural approach in today’s day and age, and in any era.

For more on the topic of mercy, check out this previous post.

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Author: Christopher Kennedy

Senior Pastor at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, School, and Child Care in San Antonio, Texas. Husband to my beloved Ashley. Dad to the four most wonderful children in the world.

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