Saturday, June 10, 2006
BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL
I read two books about a year and a half ago, Resident Aliens and The Cost of Discipelship. They challenged eveything I believed and had been taught. When I went back to Matthew 5-7 and read it in a new light, many of my long held beliefs about Christianity, and Christianity in America changed.
One such belief had to do with Matthew 5:7. I always believed 'mercy' to mean forgiveness. And that's great to forgive people, but it actually goes further than that. Mercy is grace. Mercy is not only forgiveness but compassion as well. It is giving to those who do not deserve it. Much like Christ showed us mercy at the cross, he gave us something we did not deserve.
Growing up in conservative America, I often held to the notion that homeless people, for instance, were homeless because of the 'drunken' lifestyle they'd chosen. Then I worked at a homeless shelter for a week when I came to college. I got know guys like Ron who told me his story. I got to see the honest, hard working men who were just trying to get by. I stayed that the shelter that week - not in a hotel or church. And because of that, I learned something about the face of God: he is merciful, and we are called to be merciful too.
Justice is not a Christian concept; it is an American one. Justice demands fairness. The score is settled; the wrongs avenged.
But Jesus teaches his followers to be merciful. Give what is undeserved to those we are taught are undeserving. Christians are not to demand justice; they are to offer grace.
True, justice is in the Bible, especially in the OT. But the OT is a Jewish work, justice is a large component of their beliefs. The very nature of sacrifices is to fulfill justice; to atone for wrongdoings. But Jesus strengthened the demands of the OT in the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of fulfilling the demands of justice, we are to go further and offer grace.
Every time the word justice is mentioned in the NT, it refers to Jesus as diety. God alone is to exact justice, because it's no longer our perogative; it is God's alone. As followers of Christ, we are to offer grace, as we were offered grace.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. We are to offer grace, not justice. Justice demands fairness. But grace demands love.