There is a delicious paradox in Jesus’ fifth beatitude – “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7, NASB95) Unlike the other beatitudes, this one as the quality of reaping what is sown. The basic law of nature is if you plant a pumpkin seed you will get more pumpkins. The Apostle Paul extends this law to spiritual matters – “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7–8, NASB95) Whatever we sow in life tends to come back to us, whether we like it or not. Ever notice how smiles and laughter are contagious? Or how an angry and bitter attitude can darken a room? The law of sowing and reaping is so universal that other religious traditions also recognize it. In eastern religions, it takes the form of the wicked taskmaster called karma.
But here’s the paradox, mercy breaks the law of sowing and reaping. Well, “break” isn’t exactly the right word because the law isn’t broken but surpassed and superseded by a higher law. So, while Jesus places mercy in the context of sowing and reaping it also supersedes the same law. One definition of mercy is “not getting the punishment we do deserve.” Even though we’ve sown a lifetime of sin and should reap punishment, Jesus mercifully offers forgiveness instead. As James observes, “mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13b, NASB95) Perhaps we can say it this way – The field of our life where we have sown sin, rebellion, offense, anger, bitterness, pride, jealousy, and self-centeredness has been plowed over by Jesus so that we can begin anew by sowing love, joy, peace, mercy, faith, and hope.
Not so long ago Betty and I were enjoying the warm sunshine of a city park in Seattle. We were visiting some family for a few days before beginning the next leg of our vacation. The park was busy. A street magician was trying to gather an audience. Seagulls were scavenging bits of food. People were playing, eating, or just enjoying the sun like we were. While sitting there a street beggar came up and, well, begged. Instantly the thoughts tumble, is he truthful? Does he deserve it? Why is he like this? What should I do? I ended up giving him a couple of bucks. Jesus also had street beggars beg of Him. The Gospels record several instances of beggars calling out “Jesus son of David, have mercy on us.” In Jesus’ time, street beggars were often disabled, blind, and lame. Society deemed that they were being punished for their sin or the sin of their parents. In other words, they were reaping what they had sown. By society rules, the politically correct thought of that day, they were not worthy of mercy. In fact, to help them could be interpreted as interfering with God. But Jesus showed them true mercy – He healed them.
I don’t know what my street beggar did with the two bucks I gave him. I showed him a little mercy, what he did with it is between him and God. When we place conditions on mercy is it really mercy? It’s easy to give mercy to those we deem as deserving, or pitiable, or understandable, or connected, or trustworthy, or wronged. The challenge is to give mercy to the undeserving, the not so trustworthy, to one who caused their own need, to the one who has caused harm. God didn’t judge whether we were worthy or deserving of the mercy of forgiveness or even our new life in Jesus. Which is a good thing because no matter how good we thought we were – we weren’t.
Let’s bring this just a bit closer to home. It’s about as easy to give a beggar a couple bucks as it is to ignore them. But what about our family or those that have offended us in some way, perhaps even those that we count as enemies, that is where our mercy is really tested. Can we give the same kind of mercy that we have been given to our enemies, to those that have harmed us in the past, to those that are bullies, belligerent, and rude today? Giving a beggar a few bucks may make us feel good, some measure of satisfaction that we’ve done our bit. Showing mercy to those that owe us something because of their words and actions, that’s the kind of mercy Jesus was talking about. It’s what He did for us and what He demands we do for others. If the only mercy we offer is to the poor and the down and out then we are sowing sparingly, but when we give mercy to those that have hurt us we are bountifully sowing. Paul observed, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Corinthians 9:6, NASB95) It’s not easy. It means plowing under that patch of offense, finding ways to begin again, knowing full well that what we offer may be rejected or misused. But that’s what mercy is all about and in due course, we will reap what we sow, we will harvest mercy.