PRAYING THE BEATITUDES, PART 7

PRAYING THE BEATITUDES, PART 6

Matthew 5:7

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

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Have you ever been wronged? Has anyone ever offended you, injured you, treated you with less dignity than you know you deserve? I think it would not be rash of me to say we all have. We live in a world of billions of people, each of who see life as revolving around ourselves. Like particles in a boiling liquid we routinely bump roughly against each other sending ourselves off in a steaming eruption of injury and offense. Or we contain our offense, feeling just in our anger, its tenuous lid threatening imminent explosion.

Jesus offers another option, a better way. He’s forever challenging the status quo, isn’t He? This is not merely a suggestion, though. This isn’t an either/or option. If we claim to be followers of Him, it is a command. Later He is forthright in saying, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” and “if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matt. 7:1; 6:14).

Mercy is compassion. It is clemency, tolerance and forgiveness, especially toward those who have offended us or deserve punishment. The gospel of Luke recounts Jesus’ teaching of the beatitudes to include his clarification on the extent to which mercy must take us. In that recounting, Jesus commands, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27,28).

Oh, enemies; that means criminals and such, right? I’m wondering if we can bring this need for mercy a little closer to home than that. Have we ever felt like those closest to us (I’m talking family members now) sometimes feel like, dare we say it, enemies? Have they said things our friends would never dare say to us? Have they offended us in ways our co-workers would never do? Have they failed to respect us in the way we know we deserve?

This is the relevant moment. Our memories may fail us in everything else but we won’t forget an offense, especially one done by the loved-one-enemy. Jesus highlights this moment by bringing us back to his ‘Lord’s Prayer’ template. He demonstrates prayers should plead, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt.6:12). The extent to which we show mercy and forgiveness to others will determine the mercy and forgiveness God grants us. That’s a sobering thought, is it not?

So then, how do we do this mercy thing? How do we forgive? Firstly, the application of mercy and forgiveness is only possible by God’s indwelling power working through us. His mercy will be the source of any mercy we display. Are we willing conduits to His Spirit’s work? Secondly, prayer will be the medium through which we are enabled to partake of the divine resource of mercy. As we humble ourselves in prayer, petitioning God with all earnestness of intent, mercy will be ours. Thirdly, our thinking must change. We must accurately see how we ourselves are offenders. We have alienated ourselves against God and our fellow-man by many acts of selfishness. God is generously merciful to us. How can we be any less to others? And fourthly, we must act. We must go and treat others as we would treat Jesus Himself. He created them; His image is within them. They are infinitely valuable in His sight. Let’s be merciful. A miracle is waiting to happen.

 

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PRAYING THE BEATITUDES, PART 3

PRAYING THE BEATITUDES, PART 3

Matthew 5:4

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

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If we thought with yesterday’s axiom we were done with spiritual oxymorons, we are mistaken.  The second one is stranger still: (paraphrased) ‘Happiness is…being sad.’ Perhaps that is an oversimplification. Let’s look at it more carefully then.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”. There is a reward: comfort. Yes, comfort is a good thing, but is it reasonable to go to such great lengths, merely to reap the reward of comfort? Isn’t that like inflicting a wound so as to be given a bandage?

In answer to that question I think we must look at the concept of mourning. ‘Mourn’ is a verb, an action word. It implies the act of deep sorrowing over something. When we hear the word mourn we often think of our response to a loved one’s death. It is grieving.  It is denial, anger, bargaining and despair. It is wanting to change events so that the past can be reversed, and the loss avoided. That, in the spiritual sense, is exactly what Jesus wants us to experience. He wants us to mourn, to be sensitive to, and to grieve over our own sinful bent in such a way that we want death, spiritual death, to be stayed.  That is repentance really. The injury to our soul is a mortal one. If we, like lepers, fail to sense our hopeless wound we will be doomed to an eternity of regret. Only by attending to the wound, bringing it to the Great Comforter, can we be healed. The comfort is thorough; it penetrates to the very core of our being.

Jesus teaches the second axiom, like the first, by following up with application. He again directs us (in Matt. 6:12) to pray. He calls us to plead with the Father, “Forgive us our debts”. Prayerfully confessing our rebellious ways (thoughts, words, actions—anything unloving toward God or our fellow humans) expresses grief. It is mourning. And it, says Jesus, is a blessed activity because it is prerequisite to forgiveness, wholeness, and daily-restored relationship with God. Not surprisingly, God’s Holy Spirit is often referred to as the Comforter. Prayerful mourning allows Him to work His great comfort in us.

Let’s take that nugget of truth offered us by the One who knows true blessedness. Let’s place it in the satchel at our side along with the jewel of Axiom One. They look rough on the exterior, but inside their beauty is stunning. May God help us embrace the strange but necessary call to be poor in spirit and to mourn.