Mercy is the most fundamental aspect of our relationship with God. We only have a relationship with God because of His tremendous mercy, for without it, we are permanently estranged from Him. Thus, Jesus teaches mercy on our parts as a foundational requirement of being His disciple.
We have received His mercy; we are to show mercy to others when the occasion arises. We have received His love; we are to show love to others. How can we show mercy without love, and love without mercy? Yes, this is fundamental.
The person who has received God’s mercy and who shares God’s mercy with others, both through the Gospel and through our own attitudes and actions, will in the end, receive mercy when those who have refused it receive God’s judgment; this is also a fundamental truth.
Now we come to the reversal of this: What kind of person does not show mercy to others?
The ruthless, the cruel, the inhumane, the purely evil…
Will they receive mercy: of course not, they will be judged. Will they be blessed in this life by relationship with God? No, for they live in open rebellion against Him. Will they receive mercy in the end? No, they will receive justice instead.
I doubt that I need to discuss what it means to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” so let’s jump directly to what will become of the one who has no such desire. I think we can safely assume that the one who has no such desire will not be blessed, and one who hungers and thirsts for wickedness will not only find what they are looking for, but they will also find God’s curse in His judgment. Such a person will always need to be looking over his shoulder, will be running from the law, and will seldom have a restful night’s sleep; if they are lucky, they’ll live long enough to die from stress related illness, if not they will die by the sword. Anybody want to sign up for that?
As with the other beatitudes, there is an apocalyptic element to this (see Isaiah 61). God’s ultimate gift to Mankind is the gift of righteousness, for when Jesus returns and culminates his Church, all evil will be eliminated and the righteous will abide eternally in His Kingdom without pain, suffering, oppression or death: Blessed indeed!
A person who is “meek” is often thought of as being resigned to their circumstances, even weak, but that really isn’t what is being described here. Those who are “meek” are those who understand that they are dependent upon God, and not upon their own strength or even upon the power of armies, for our own strength is a temporary affair, as is the might of an army; all will perish. Yet God’s strength is eternal, and His might never flags or fails. With this in mind, consider who is not meek; the proud, the loud, and the haughty. These are the ones who must always dominate others, who must always have the last word, and who will trample others to get ahead, for they fear losing control: They are not blessed for their own behavior is their curse.
The meek will inherit the earth, just like the descendants of Abraham would inherit the Land. Once again, Matthew has linked an idea relating to Jesus with Israelite history, and this time, He has done so in a way that leads us to an apocalyptic conclusion, for those who place their full faith and trust in God for their provision will not only enjoy relationship with Him now, but will reign with Him upon His return, thus receiving a double blessing of His grace.
Most of the time, we don’t associate blessing with mourning; maybe we should rethink this… Matthew didn’t actually say what those blessed ones are mourning; it could be the loss of a loved one, it could be the loss of their home or possessions, or it could be the sinful and rebellious state of this world. Maybe it doesn’t matter…
I think it is safe to say that for a person to truly mourn they first had to love; certainly this would be true in the loss of a loved one. It would also be true if a person is mourning the loss of possessions, for if they didn’t love the possession(s) lost, would they actually mourn?
It wouldn’t seem so.
If the person was mourning for the wickedness of this world, wouldn’t that show they loved God a whole lot?
Consider for a moment those who do not mourn; what a terrible and sad life they must lead! Never having enough of a relationship with anyone for love to develop; never being able to mourn? Never having a loving relationship with God so as to mourn for those who rebel against Him?
Never loving never mourning?
Those who mourn will receive comfort from God, both in the here and now and in the ultimate future when all pain and sorrow will cease. I don’t know about you, but for me, just knowing this is a comfort that brings joy into my life.
The first Beatitude speaks of those who are “poor in spirit”. Much has been made about the difference between Matthew’s language and that of Luke in Luke 6:20, for Luke merely says “the poor”. Does Matthew have more in mind than mere economic circumstances?
I’m happy to let others argue, but it seems to me that Matthew, a Jew, might be aware of the Old Testament idea of poverty not only in literal terms, but as a state of mind, for the Hebrew word for “poor” has this additional connotation to it. In those days, a poor person not only had to deal with bad economic circumstances, they also had to contend with the fact that they had fewer rights in society, for then as now, they lacked the resources to enforce their rights; consequently they were at the mercy of others.
Living in such a state made it clear to anyone who could fathom the notion, that the poor must depend entirely upon God. Most of us today, even those of us who don’t enjoy material abundance, live in circumstances far better than those of a poor person in ancient times, and maybe we too have a hard time seeing what Matthew means; let’s look at it this way: In our world, a person of very limited means is never far from being destitute, while a rich person has a much larger buffer to get through tough times. The poor person knows they live close to the edge; the rich person can convince himself that everything is wonderful, that he is the master of his own life, and in doing so, he only deceives himself, for God is the master of everything. We see time and again in Scripture that a rich person has a great obstacle to overcome in following God, for he thinks he is the one in control, while a poor man has no such delusion to overcome, and no great wealth to hold him back. The poor person is free to follow the Lord, while the rich person carries his wealth as a millstone around his neck; woe is he.
The kingdom of heaven is both a present reality and a future hope, for it is with us today in Christ, and will be fully realized in its ultimate fulfillment when He returns. For the person who recognizes his or her current dependence upon God for everything in life, it is a present reality indeed, and a source of great joy, “for theirs truly is the kingdom of heaven.”
Cattle grazing peacefully as the Southwest Chief rushes past, west of Albuquerque, New Mexico