Blessed are the Merciful

beatitudes-1Let us now look into Blessing No. 5 in Matthew 5:7. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

A photographer took pictures of a lady and sent her the proofs. She was furious! She charged into his studio, slammed the proofs on his desk, and   exclaimed, “These pictures do not do me justice!”

The   photographer took them slowly from their envelopes and examined each one. Then he looked into the woman’s hard, bitter face and said, “Whatyou need is mercy, not justice.”[1]

There are two OT background passages for this beatitude. One is Prov. 14:21, “He who despises his neighbor sins; But he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he” (Prov. 14:21, NKJV). The other is Prov. 17:5, “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.” (ESV) That is the English translation of the Hebrew. But in the LXX, the Greek translation, there is the additional phrase, ὁ δπισπλαγχνιζόμενος λεηθήσεται, “the one having compassion shall have mercy.”

Both OT passages tell us one thing—showing mercy to the poor. The OT meaning is not about showing mercy to anyone. It is about showing mercy to the poor.

The question is, Does it also mean the same thing to Jesus—showing mercy to the poor? One solution is to understand Matthew’s thought about mercy. Let’s have a quick look at two Matthean passages. Matt. 9:13, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (ESV) Matthew tells the story about many tax collectors and sinners who came and ate a meal with Jesus and his disciples. This offended the Pharisees. For the Pharisees, teachers of the Law must separate from sinners for the sake of righteousness. So they said to Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” In other words, why does Jesus, your teacher, fellowship with these   corrupt tax collectors and sinners?

Jesus replied, quoting Hos. 6:6, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For Jesus, showing mercy to sinners is more important than obedience to the Law.

Let’s jump to Matt. 12:7, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” (ESV) One day, Jesus and his disciples went through the grain fields on the Sabbath day. His disciples were hungry. So they plucked out the heads of grain and ate it. The Pharisees saw it. They said, “Look, your disciples are doing what is prohibited—working on the Sabbath.”

Jesus replied, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry? He went into the Temple and ate the bread of Presence. That was prohibited from him, except for the priests. Then Jesus continued, “Have you read in the Law how the priests did the work of the Lord on the Sabbath. But by doing so, they desecrate the Sabbath. Yet they are guiltless.” Jesus was saying that the priests were not bound by the regulations of the Law, because they were doing something more important for God.

At that point, Jesus said, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” He meant that the gospel of the kingdom is more important than obeying the Sabbath laws. The gospel includes taking care of the workers of the kingdom. The gospel includes feeding the needy who serve the kingdom. In showing mercy to the poor and the needy, such as the disciples, the spirit of the Law is fulfilled.

That is how Matthew presents his view of showing mercy.

Thus, we learn 2 things about Matthew’s thought of showing mercy. First, the merciful are those who show mercy to the poor. Second, the merciful are those who show mercy as the good news of the kingdom.


[1] McEachern, “Beatitudes.” Online: http://www.preaching.com.

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