Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lord Have Mercy

"Blessed are the merciful,

    for they will be shown mercy."

                                   Matthew 5:7

It is because of the mercy of God that we are saved.  Indeed, it is because of his unmerited love and unmerited grace that God extends his mercy to the undeserving -- the spiritually bankrupt.  We see this frequently expressed in the Bible.

In Titus Chapter 3 we are told:  "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."  Titus 3:3-7.  We find a similar and perhaps more familiar expression of this truth in Paul's letter to the Romans:  "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  Romans 5:6-8.

God is love, and because of that mercy is an essential part of the very character of God.   We see the mercy of God, exhibited both directly and through those people who were called according to his purpose, throughout the whole of the Bible.  When God told Moses He would pour his wrath out on the Israelites for worshipping the golden calf and for their rebellion, Moses pleaded to God on behalf of the people:  "But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?  Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.  Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’”  Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened."  Exodus 32:11-14.  Later, Moses would plead with God again on behalf of the people -- asking the Lord to blot his own name out of the Book if He could not forgive the sins of the people.  Exodus 32:32.

In the New Testament, if anyone should convince us that there is none beyond the mercy of God it is the Apostle Paul -- the former persecutor of God's church.  The mercy of God was never lost on the apostle.  He was acutely aware that he did not deserve salvation; much less to be used mightily by Jesus:   "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen."  1 Timothy 1:12-17.

So, what is the point of all of this?  Matthew 5:7 says "blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."  The question I think we need to ask ourselves is "what will those who are not merciful in this life will be shown?"  It is a sobering question, and raises a sobering thought.

We can dismiss the question easily enough.  After all, our God is a God of mercy.  But we should be careful if we so choose.  Yes, our God is a God of mercy.  But He is also a God of judgment.  And, the truth is that genuine followers of the Lord are being conformed to the image of Jesus.  He is merciful, and if we really love Him we will become merciful too.  We must become merciful too.

In the Catholic tradition there are what is called the "Seven Corporal Works of Mercy."  If you are not Catholic (or maybe even if you are) this may be foreign to you.  But, the acts themselves should not be.  They are (1) to feed the hungry, (2) to give drink to the thirsty, (3) to shelter the homeless, (4) to visit the sick, (5) to visit those in prison, (6) to bury the dead and (7) to give alms to the poor.

If most of these seem familiar, they should.  And, if you want the answer to the question "what will those who are not merciful in this life will be shown," Jesus answered that question in Matthew 25.  So, read it and discover this for yourself.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.


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