Mercy Me

Today, as it was two millennia ago, the Sermon on the Mount is the closest thing we have to a Jesus manifesto. It’s probably the most recognized of his teachings and also the most misunderstood. We’re looking at each beatitude separately to see what Jesus could possibly have to say to us today. To see what we’ve covered so far, check out: You Say You Want A Revolution Out of the Abyss, Meek and Mighty, and A Place at the Table.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:1-12).

Mary was a tough-minded, analytical skeptic. She’d had a rough life which she used to keep people at arm’s length. But when her daughter and grandson were brutally murdered, the chink in her armor cracked and she was open to talking to someone at the church her partner attended. I was that person at the church she was willing to talk to and she tested me. I knew her testing me was really to see if I was going to stick by her for the long haul and could I handle her in all of her messiness.

Just as she was starting to actually accept her life and herself she learned that her diabetes had reached a point where she was going to have to have her leg amputated. I knew I needed to call in some re-enforcements and I knew immediately who I wanted.

Boyd was a retired engineer and World War II Air Force colonel. He was a graduate of Tuskegee University during the era of the Tuskegee Airmen. His wife had already predeceased him and his two adult children were quite successful in the area. He was a faithful member of the church with a quiet leadership that made him an invaluable participant wherever he served. He was especially effective on the finance committee, one the most challenging and contentious committees in our church.

What a lot of people didn’t know was Boyd had his leg amputated because of diabetes many years ago. I didn’t know how he felt about talking to someone else about his experience, but I knew he could reach Mary and Mary would be able to hear Boyd because they had a shared experience. Boyd had a credibility with Mary because he knew precisely what it was like to be faced with a chronic illness like diabetes and the lifestyle and medical decisions that must be made when living with such a disease.

Boyd was merciful. Mercy is the ability to get right into someone else’s skin so you can see things as through their eyes, feel things as though they’re their feelings. It’s a deliberate, intentional identification. It’s the essence of the Native American saying: Walk a mile in my moccasins and you will know my journey.

This is precisely what many people do not want to even try. They’re either too wrapped up in themselves or not much concerned about someone else. They want to stay on the outside, not getting too close to anything that’s difficult or painful or messy emotionally or complicated circumstantially. Sometimes we’re afraid something will be said to us or asked of us that we can’t answer or bear. Dealing with any emotions – our own or someone else’s – can be scary.

And yet that is precisely what being merciful entails. That is just what God did. God came to humanity, not as a remote, detached, isolated, majestic God; but as a man, Jesus.

The corollary to being merciful is receiving mercy. Only those who show mercy will receive mercy. One of the great truths of life is that in other people we see the reflection of ourselves. If we are detached and disinterested in them, they will be detached and disinterested in us. If they see we care, their hearts will respond in caring. The real gift is the one who shows mercy has become nothing less than like God. Others can know God through someone’s mercy to them.

When Mary was scheduled to have her leg amputated, Boyd asked if he could go with me to the hospital to be with her before her surgery. She was overwhelmed when we showed up. She expected me, but Boyd was a wonderful surprise. Eighteen months later, when Mary found out she was going to have to have her other leg amputated, she called Boyd first.

Your mission this week, should you choose to accept it, is to ponder this beatitude for your life: Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

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