The first four beatitudes parallel the last four. When we become impoverished of spirit we understand our overwhelming need for God’s mercy and therefore learn and long to extend mercy to others.
When we mourn over our sins, recognizing the gracious yet terrible cost for our redemption, penitent obedience purifies our heart.
When we are meek, we will have harnessed our strength and brought our life under the restraint and control of God – the result of which we are at peace with God and seek to be peacemakers among men.
And when we hunger and thirst for righteousness we will even be willing to suffer persecution for the pursuit of righteousness.
The word “merciful” translates a Greek work from which we get “benefactor.” It appears in this sense only one other time in the New Testament in Hebrews 2.17, “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Jesus demonstrated the meaning of mercy. The term in its verb form is common in the New Testament. In Matthew 6.3, it is used concerning the giving of alms. It is anything done that is of any benefit to one in need of mercy.
The Latin derivation of the word contributes further to our understanding of its meaning. It is misericordia, a compound term made of two words – misernas, meaning “pity, misery, or pain” and cordis, “the heart.” So miseria cordis is “pain of heart.” That is precisely the primary meaning of mercy. A merciful person suffers with those who suffer and identifies himself with their distress. Mercy is when we count another’s misery or need as our very own and then act within our power and ability to relieve or supply their need.
In Luke 10.25-37, Jesus illustrated the meaning of mercy to a self-righteous and unmerciful lawyer. He told the story of a man on a journey set upon by thieves who beat and robbed him and left him on the roadside for dead. On no less than two occasions, highly respected men could have helped him, but instead chose to walk around him and offer no help. Then along came a Samaritan, loathsome in the estimation of the Jews, who not only stopped and rendered first aid, but carried the injured man to a place of safety and shelter and even paid for his keep! Now which of these three, Jesus asked the lawyer, was a neighbor to the man robbed? The lawyer’s only response was, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” And Jesus’ final word: “Go and do the same.”
Mercy considers not the status, nor the ethnicity, nor the race, simply the need, and compels us to extend whatever aid and assistance we are capable of providing.
“Happy are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”