So, we are now at the half way point. If we listen to the words of Jesus really carefully, we’ll notice something: Jesus’ focus turns from the blessing of lack to the blessing of abundance. So far Jesus has talked about:
- The lack of spiritual wealth, and our acknowledgement of our fallenness
- The loss of something precious – physical or spiritual – that causes mourning
- The lack of pride, which is the hallmark of meekness
- The lack of fulfilment, which leads to hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
It has also been suggested that the first four beatitudes are primarily concerned with our relationship with God – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind…” while the next four are more to do with our relationship with our fellow man “… and Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Though Jesus’ teaching turns from our relationship with Him to our relationship with our fellow man and though his focus changes from lack to abundance, His challenge demands no less sacrifice from us as Christians living in a secular self-centred world. This week’s study will look at those who abound in Mercy – and Mercy is at its heart sacrificial living, because those we show mercy towards are by nature those whom we selfishly believe don’t deserve our mercy or love! Indeed, later in the chapter Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matthew 5:46)
Have you ever played a game of “Mercy”?
Watch this video if you haven’t:
(If you happen to be a young man and happen to be in the room with other young men your age, or better still, if you happen to have a twin brother in the room at this very moment, then this might feel like the perfect opportunity to play this “game” right now – purely in the interest of scientific research of course. But let me point out, I personally would not recommend it!)
Icebreaker 1– Why is it so hard to ask for mercy even when you’re enduring such pain?
For me, this game has nothing what so ever to do with Mercy – it has much more to do with Aggressive Competitiveness – though I’m sure “Fancy playing a game of Aggressive Competitiveness?” is unlikely to catch on! The outcome of this game is ultimately nearly always the same – one person entitled to strut away gleefully victorious with pride masking the pain he or she endured – while the other is required to walk away filled with bitterness and humiliation acutely aware of their pain they’ve experienced or worse still desperate to have another go.
Many charities have caught onto the fact the people are more willing to show mercy in giving by being allowed to revel in the pride of their own generosity – be that by naming a hospital wing after some rich benefactor or by sending a certificate for the donor to proudly display in their home or work place or to simply show the giver the face of the poor wretch who is forever indebted for the mercy they received.
Icebreaker 2- Why is it more satisfying to give to a poor person on the street than it is to send a cheque to a homeless charity?
Sadly, children are taught at a very young age that showing mercy is the source of ultimate pride and receiving it, through foodbanks or charitable aid, is a source of humiliation. Of course, all this has nothing what-so-ever to do with Mercy – so what is Mercy? This is what this study is all about – and we start by turning to the words of Jesus…
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
There is a wonderful symmetry in this beatitude – if we were scientists, we would find it straightforward to simplify this into a neat formula:
μout = μin
where μ = Mercy
in other words
Mercy out = Mercy in
Q 1- Looking at this symmetry of this beatitude – how does the recognition that we all need mercy help to combat our pride?
Watch together this video about this verse to help you discuss it.
Q 2- Apart from Christ’s work on the cross, what have been the effects of Mercy in your life, for example through generous compassion or forgiveness?
Many conflicts seem to simmer on for generations with untold misery and suffering seemingly being the only foreseeable outcome. Look at the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland or the conflict between Arabs and Israelis in the Middle East or the Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda or the Tamil and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka or the Bosnians, Serbs and Croats in the former Yugoslavia or… – the list is sadly endless. In each case, generation after generation has felt justified in passing on division and hatred to their children rather than seeking reconciliation and peace. Some of these long-standing conflicts have thankfully now come to an end, but not without causing needless suffering and death in the process.
Q3- In times of division and hostility, how can Mercy lead to more Mercy?
The message that Jesus teaches us here was originally taught to an audience of Jews whose history was forged through endless conflict and who now were mercilessly occupied and oppressed by the mighty Roman empire that could not be resisted – yet still, Jesus calls on this oppressed Jewish audience to demonstrate mercy.
Q4- Many merciful people are treated indifferently or even cruelly in return – Jesus Himself being the chief example. How is Jesus calling us all, even when we feel oppressed, to take such a risk in showing others Mercy?
Today we are watching on our screens the outpouring of deeply held anger and division brought to the surface by the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis – causing violent rioting on the streets of America as a show of frustration and indignation which is now spreading globally even here to the streets of London .
Q5- In the face of challenges like this – how can we each, as members of Christ’s Kingdom, take risks to show Christ-like Mercy in all areas of our life, even when we are entitled to our anger?
If you have time to do this in the group – why not? Otherwise perhaps if you have time this week, you may wish to carry on studying God’s word around this subject.
Read Jesus’ Parable of The Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35.
Deeper Q1- What was Peter apparently looking for when he asked Jesus how many times he should forgive? Have you ever looked for this?
Deeper Q2- In settling the debt what was the master willing to lose and how did that demonstrate the Character of God?
Deeper Q3- How did the servant’s behaviour reveal the true attitude towards the master’s Mercy?
Deeper Q4- The end of the parable seems cruel and hard to reconcile with the abundant love of God. In what ways does this still reflect the character of a merciful God?
Ask yourself before God:
- How you yourself have received abundant Mercy
- Think about how receiving Mercy from others and from God have impacted the way you treat others
- How you show Mercy to others
- Think about your attitude – are you ever tempted to laud Mercy over others to gain a sense of satisfaction and pride?
Spend some time each morning this week reflecting on how you can show more Mercy that very day
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