Delight in the Law of God: Sermons on the Beatitudes and the Commandments of God (Part V)

Saint Sampson the Hospitable of Constantinople

Saint Sampson the Hospitable of Constantinople

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

by Protopresbyter James Thornton

The Beatitudes we review today is the fifth, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (St. Matthew 5:7). You will remember from past discussions that what we refer to as the process of salvation is a process of transforming ourselves. We transform our inward natures--fallen, sinful, unclean, self-centered, and rebellious--so that those natures conform to God's Nature. That is the only way that God can receive us into His Heavenly Kingdom, because, although His love is unconditional and therefore unwavering in any case, only men and women who have struggled to become Christlike in their natures can abide with God forever. God cannot receive that which is wholly alien to Himself. And therefore, the life in Christ is the path along which we battle against our sinfulness and strive to acquire certain of the attributes of our Maker--selfless love, most of all, and an offspring of selfless love, mercy.

What does it mean to be merciful? The meaning, for Christians, has many facets. Saint John Chrysostomos remarks that "the way of showing mercy is manifold, and this commandment is broad." So, let us examine some of these facets.

Firstly, we are compassionate to the suffering. We do as Christ commands in giving food to the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, giving clothing the naked, sheltering strangers, and so forth. (See St. Matthew 25:34-40). That is all fundamental to Christian teaching. Some of the needy are blameless for their plight, some are not. It may be that many of those in need of food, drink, clothing, and shelter brought these sad conditions upon themselves by their folly, by their extravagance, by their neglect, by their imprudence, by their laziness, or whatever. However, since we are merciful, we ignore the various human failings that may have brought these unfortunate to their grief. Their failings are not, in most cases, our business anyway. The failings are the business of those suffering. The extension of mercy is our business as Christians. And so, we offer our mercy in the form of alms.

Secondly, but of the highest importance nonetheless, we are merciful in the spiritual sense, when we pray for others most especially: our family members, our friends, and, to be sure, our enemies. (See St. Matthew 5:44). Saint Jerome of Bethlehem (331-420 AD), in his work Against the Palagians, writes:

"All that the saints say is a prayer to God; their whole prayer and supplication a strong wrestling for the pity of God, so that we, who by our own strength and zeal cannot b saved, may be preserved by His mercy."

The Saints, Saint Jerome is saying, understand the science of prayer, and beg the Almighty to be merciful to those crippled by some spiritual weakness, which, in fact, is most of us. Hearing these prayers, God responds, extending His mercy to the ones for whom prayer is offered. We are required to pray for all: for those who love us and for those who hate us, so that God's mercy may touch them and save them.

We are merciful in the spiritual sense, also, when we patiently guide those in error, or those whose spiritual direction is otherwise unsound, toward truth and righteousness. Few of us do not meet people who are needful of spiritual nourishment. We assign such people by gently offering them an alternative to a life of emptiness and ugliness. I say "gently offering" since to carp and carry one tactlessly and endlessly will usually drive persons in a direction opposite to what we intend. So, we must be wise in this quest. We best serve to guide such people by our own good example.

Thirdly, we are merciful, and we imitate Christ, when we do not seek to do harm to those who have wronged us. Instead, we show them mercy, that is, we show them kindness, and forbearance, even though the mercy is not, strictly speaking, merited. Sometimes enemies do us grievous harm, but we have an example, in such instances, in Christ Himself. On behalf of those who scourged Him, beat Him, crowned Him with thorns, and nailed Him to a Cross to die in agony, Christ prayed, "Father forgiven them; for they know not what they do" (St. Luke 23:34).

Fourthly, and this is related to the foregoing, we must be merciful to those indebted to us for any reason. You doubtless recall the story from the Gospel of Saint Matthew, told by Christ, of the servant who owned his king ten thousand talents. The king was prepared to sell the servant and his family into slavery to pay the debt, but the servant begged the king's mercy. The king, moved by compassion, forgave the debt. However, the same servant, to whom the king was so gracious, was owed a debt by a fellow servant, which debt he ruthlessly enforced. The king, upon hearing this, called the servant into his presence, chastising him for his lack of mercy:

"O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall My Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses" (St. Matthew 18:23-25).

Fifthly, we are merciful when we are mild and gentle in our lives, when we always see others through the lenses of our mercy. We are so and do this because we recognize our own faults and thus are mild and gentle in contemplating the faults of others, as opposed to being harsh, disparaging, and merciless.

God is mercy itself, just as He is love (agape). (See 1 St. John 4:8, 16). We exist in God's love and mercy. Think of man's state here on earth; think of the sin that fills this world; think, each of us, of our own sins. Were God to treat us as we deserve, He might justly wipe us from the face of the earth. But He does not, He is merciful. All those who gain eternal life do so by God's mercy. To quote from the writings of Saint Jerome again:

"And yet let me tell you that baptism condones past offenses, and does not preserve righteousness in the time to come; the keeping of that is dependent on toil and industry, as well as earnestness, and above all on the mercy of God".

When, in other words, we are Baptized, al the sins committed up to that time are pardoned. However, we are still responsible for sins committed after baptism. We must struggle against sin by our "toil and industry," as Saint Jerome puts it, for the remainder of our lives. Yet that struggle, and that toil, and that industry are made possible only because of God's grace, which flows to us in accordance with God's great mercy.

Christ's promise in this Beatitude is that those who are merciful "shall obtain mercy." All of mankind obtains God's mercy in the mercy to which Christ refers to mercy at His judgment seat. If we, who are sinners, can, despite our less-than-perfect lives, stand before Christ at the judgment and say, with complete honesty, "I was always merciful to my brethren in all things; please, dear Lord, be merciful likewise to me"; if we can say that truthfully, then the doors of Christ's compassion and mercy will be opened to us.

And so it is that, because of our mercy regarding all of the petty and short-lived things of this world, we are thus to be repaid a thousandfold, and a millionfold, and infinitely more by Christ God.

(To be continued)



The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George