By Daniel Downs
In the last post on Jesus’ Sermon given from Mount Gerezim, the discussion about its relevance for today was continued. The topic was spiritual food. For those on the journey to the heavenly city, spiritual food is more important than the natural kind. You know the saying: you are what you eat! Those on the journey know they will not get there without still being alive unto God.
For the spiritually poor, consuming and living God’s word is a matter of utter survival. More crucial than society’s socialist welfare program is God’s welfare plan for our lives. It too is a cradle to beyond the grave plan encompassing our material and spiritual needs and rights. The really good part is that God promises to coach us through the challenges and celebrate our successes. Because God is a good provider, the poor do not remain needy.
Maybe that is why Jesus directed his sermon to those who would be blessed of God. (See the links below to the previous four posts.)
In his next sermon point, Jesus’ focus on the divine economy turns to currency. Currency is something of specified value used in the trade of goods and services. In a barter economy, people trade their stuff for other people’s stuff. As in our modern economy, the ancients used money for buying and selling desired goods and services. As you can see, giving and receiving is part of the divine design for humans in this world. What we often overlook is the other type of currency we are expected to use in God’s economy, which is summarized in the following verse:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”(Matthew 5:7)
All previous parts of Jesus’ sermon focused on a state of being as it relates to God and to a lesser degree to others. Here the emphasis is on a dynamic of giving and receiving.
In the previous four posts, Jesus taught that acknowledging one’s spiritual poverty leads to acquiring personal property in God’s kingdom. This was followed with the assurance that when in the state of mourning for one’s failures God would be there to comfort and to restore. The benefit of sorrow and repentance is the development of a right attitude about oneself. The name for the realization of one’s log-size flaws is called humility. Gentleness towards others is the desired outcome. It is realizing that others deserve as much understanding and compassion as oneself. The practice of this divine virtue is equivalent to a mortgage for earthly property, which property God promises to give. Of course, sowing righteousness or justice produces a harvest of satisfaction. The motivation to do so comes in the state of being hungry for it. This kind of hunger is a combined result of the poverty and guilt, a poverty of right relationships because of sin, pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, and the like.
What is amazing about knowing God is the fact that it is a relationship based on God’s demonstrated mercy, compassion, and loving-kindness. The evidence of our experienced relationship with God is a character formed in the His likeness, that is God being merciful, compassionate, and kind. This also we find in Luke’s version of Jesus sermon:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)
Here the adjective “merciful” describes more than a “state of being” it is a way of acting towards others. To be merciful is to show mercy as God has demonstrated it to oneself.
According to the perspective of Matthew’s gospel, the degree to which our lives exemplify God’s mercy is the degree to which we are perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
The Bible is full of examples of mercy. The model of God’s mercy is the Exodus, which was the eventful emancipation of the Jews from poverty and misery of slavery in Pharaoh’s Egypt, and its capstone is the redemption of the Gentiles from bondage to the evils of sin. The dessert of divine justice for human crime (sin) against the law of God was completely satisfied by the sacrificed life of Jesus. This is the supreme example of God’s mercy mediated through one sinless man, Jesus.
Yet, Jesus demonstrated the kind of mercy God expects the blessed citizens of His kingdom to give. The gospels show Jesus healing the sick, comforting the bereaved, and even feeding the hungry. He was kind towards lepers, prostitutes, and IRS agents of his day. He sought to bring them into the righteousness of God’s kingdom through compassion rather than condemnation. Like the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-36), Jesus went out of his way to bind up the wounded and to facilitate their restoration to physical and spiritual health. The Spirit by which he accomplished it then is the same God who is accomplishing it today.
When Jesus was instructing his audience about the currency of mercy, he may have had in mind more than the biblical canon. He may have had in view some popular extra-canonical texts as well. Consider the following teaching in the Testament of Zebulun:
“And now, my children, I bid you to keep the commands of the Lord, and to show mercy to your neighbors, and to have compassion towards all, not towards men only, but also towards beasts. For all this thing’s sake the Lord blessed me, and when all my brethren were sick, I escaped without sickness, for the Lord knows the purposes of each. Have, therefore, compassion in your hearts, my children, because even as a man doeth to his neighbor, even so also will the Lord do to him. For the sons of my brethren were sickening and were dying on account of Joseph, because they showed no mercy in their hearts; but my sons were preserved without sickness, as ye know. And when I was in the land of Canaan, by the sea-coast, I made a catch of fish for Jacob my father. (5:1-5).
“I was the first to make a boat to sail upon the sea, for the Lord gave me understanding and wisdom therein. And I let down a rudder behind it, and I stretched a sail upon another upright piece of wood in the midst. And I sailed therein along the shores, catching fish for the house of my father until we came to Egypt. And through compassion I shared my catch with every stranger. And if a man were a stranger, or sick, or aged, I boiled the fish, and dressed them well, and offered them to all men, as every man had need, grieving with and having compassion upon them. Wherefore also the Lord satisfied me with abundance of fish when catching fish; for he that shares with his neighbor receives manifold more from the Lord. For five years I caught fish and gave thereof to every man whom I saw, and sufficed for all the house of my father. And in the summer I caught fish, and in the winter I kept sheep with my brethren. (6:1-8)
“I saw a man in distress through nakedness in winter-time, and had compassion upon him, and stole away a garment secretly from my father’s house, and gave it to him who was in distress. Do [the same], my children; from that which God bestows upon you, show compassion and mercy without hesitation to all men, and give to every man with a good heart. And if ye have not the wherewithal to give to him that needs, have compassion for him in bowels of mercy…. Because also in the last days God will send His compassion on the earth, and wherever He finds bowels of mercy He dwells in him. For in the degree in which a man hath compassion upon his neighbors, in the same degree hath the Lord also upon him.” (7:1-4; 8:13).
Another interesting statement is found in an ancient Hebrew work by the title Sirach. There are some significant variations in a number of translations, but the following is one version of the statement:
“He that practices kindness offers fine flour, and he that doeth mercy sacrifices a thank-offering.” (35:2)
This statement seems reminiscent of biblical texts like “I desired mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6) or possibly “To do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice.” (Proverbs 21:3)
What is certain is that any one person in Jesus’ audience would have recalled one of those statements when Jesus later utters the following quote, “Go learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice’.” (Matthew. 9:13 & 12:7)
The second part of Jesus’ sermon point under consideration may be put this way: Blessed are those who gain in what they trade. Because they give mercy they also receive mercy. They also receive many other benefits. According to Zebulun, God threw in a health plan and a food distributorship.
More important, God regards giving mercy as an act of spiritual sacrifice, a sacrifice of loyalty and thanksgiving.
It is God himself first gives humanity the currency of mercy, compassion, and loving-kindness. God invests mercy in us so that we can trade it with others. Being a good Father and capitalist, He expects a return on His investment. He also expects us to go and do likewise (Luke 10:37).
Previous Sermon on the Mount posts: