Blessed are the merciful. Perhaps the first thing to consider is what does “mercy” mean? Defining these words is an important first step into really understanding them. Defining words as they relate to the past and to the story. Also defining the words as they fit into your life. What does “mercy” mean and how does “mercy” play out now, for you?
The definitions of the past, though translations, may give a very different feel to each of these Beatitudes. Even so far as what Jesus said in Aramaic, becomes something different as it is translated into the Greek and beyond.
Even culturally, all of language and the stories have cultural significance behind them. We don’t live in Jesus’s world of the first century, so much of the nuances of what people commonly knew is lost to us. The background story and culture around these words, likely, is missing something for us as modern peoples in a very different world. Consider what it can be like traveling to another country that’s culturally different now. Often our words, our jokes, our ways of being get misinterpreted or fall flat and feel wrong. They get “lost in translation”. Now, let’s add centuries of changes and evolutions.
The wonderful thing about sacred texts is that the answers are knowable to each of us. PAUSE. What mercy means for us, now, is likely found in our hearts. These sacred texts transcend time. It’s what they mean for us, now. We simply have to listen and reflect. Knowledge is very different than wisdom, as we know. These are wisdom texts. They take study, contemplation, and reflection. Oh, and practice.
It’s a good starting point to look at definitions. That’s part of the study part. What does “mercy” mean?
We might think of mercy as a form of forgiveness for our transgressions. May the jury have mercy on me. May God have mercy on me. We seek mercy as forgiveness for having done something we should not have. We hope our judges will be merciful. We hope our critics will be merciful.
Is that what this passage is about? Merciful forgiveness when we’ve strayed or “missed the mark”? Or is it something more?
If we come back to the original, we’ve a few languages to sort through.
As an oral tradition, we don’t know what Jesus said in his Aramaic. We have the Greek. Latin. In both Greek and Latin, mercy becomes something that we ask of others. Something like a contractual exchange. How much mercy shall we be given? From the courts, those casting judgement upon us, from a punishing God?
There are some scholars who suggest that Jesus’s meaning in Aramaic may have meant something closer to “loving kindness”. Not an exchange, or a tit for tat, but a kindness between those who love. And love as an extension to everyone. Mercy as a practice of love. Mercy is an act of love. Loving all creatures and creation and beings, including our fellow human beings on the journey. Mercy as Kindness.
Others theologians suggest that mercy stems from a word for…womb, implying a loving and caring of one another in a really intimate and close way. A relationship of mothering and fathering. Mercy, not as a punishment, but of love. Sometimes, perhaps, a tough love. God as father. God as mother. Fellow human beings as family.
Out of mercy and love, God arrives.
Perhaps mercy could be better defined as Compassion. Compassion meaning to walk with others through their struggles. To be with one another, truly be with one another, on the journey of life, to walk with others through their struggles. We offer compassion and by offering compassion, compassion returns to us. Through the ordinary interactions with one another and through Grace and God, we cultivate compassion.
If the Passion of the Christ is his suffering and dying for us, and the foundation of the entire Christian way of being, then Jesus suffers for us and with us through our journeys. This is Compassion. And we explore, experience, and suffer with him on the journey to the cross. The Lenten-Easter Journey together. This is Compassion.
We are often so proud of our strength to “go it alone” that we forget our common connection. We’re proud of living as the rugged individual. The “look what I did!!” story. We’re so busy looking close that we’ve forgotten how interconnected everything is.
There’s merit to our accomplishments, but we rarely accomplish alone. Even when we think we do. Someone walked with us and supported us. Sometimes that’s compassionately being with us on our challenges and struggles. Other times, it’s by someone not helping us or supporting us, but giving us the drive to succeed. We find our way “without help”.
There’s the research that someone before us discovered that feeds our new knowledge. The art that came before us that we love and informs our creations. The literature that came before us that we love and are inspired by. The friends and family, and even the challenging people that seemed to be in the way, we maybe didn’t realize how much were actually a part of our individual work and growth.
I think the dedications in books is telling. It’s one of those places where we really see the acknowledgement of who helped and who came before. Maybe we should practice writing dedications.
We need to cultivate more mercy and kindness. Even “just” in the ordinary sense. In our ordinary day to day. The stuff of life and living.
We need to more often seek out and acknowledge the importance of journeying beside one another. Listening to one another. Loving one another. Learning to speak well to one another. To empathize and strengthen. To guide and support one another. To comfort means: with strength. To comfort and be compassionate.
Mercy is walking with those who suffer, when it would be easier to walk away. To meet with Love, Mercy, Loving-Kindness and Compassion.
How do we do this? How do we walk with others on the Journey? We minister to each other. We grow and learn together, sometimes leaning, sometimes offering a shoulder. We listen and we share. We practice by showing up and being vulnerable with one another. We show each other kindness and mercy. We show each other love. More often than not, just by listening….with mercy, acceptance, love, compassion. All these wonderful words that we can embrace in beautiful living.