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This is the sixth in a ninepart series on the Beatitudes and their relevance in a 21st-century world.

The outstretched hand of mercy

From the August 2005 issue of The Christian Science Journal

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"WHY DON'T YOU HAVE A LITTLE MERCY?" my friend asked. She wasn't asking for mercy but encouraging me to have mercy on myself. I'd just poured out a sob story about my musical disaster that morning while singing a solo in front of a congregation. I'd felt humiliated and foolish, wishing for a button to activate an escape hatch through the floor. So where did mercy fit in? Mercy sounded so old fashioned, so Old Testament, so what people needed a long time ago. Not me, not now.

As a member of a classical choral group, I'd sung hundreds of times the plaintive cry, "Kyrie eleison" (Lord, have mercy), the opening of countless choruses containing the text of the mass. The music was usually fitting for this plea, and to me it often felt like an echo from another era.

"She thinks I need mercy," I told another friend, expecting some understanding that it is indeed a relic. But instead she seconded the need, reciting to me the fifth beatitude: "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."  Matt. 5:7. Reluctantly, I thought I should take a fresh look. What was I missing?

I remembered research I'd done a long time ago on the Old Testament Hebrew word checed, which is translated into English as "mercy" or "lovingkindness." Checed represents a concept that has so much to it that no single English word fully contains its meaning. It depicts the relationship that God has with His children. It includes unconditional love, and it includes love that's shared between two parties that are already in relationship. The 23rd Psalm shows this clearly: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever." Another significant use of the word can be found in Micah: "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"  Mic. 6:8.

This concept reminded me that because God and I are already related to one another as Creator-creation, Father-daughter, checed is part of our relationship. His love for me, which certainly includes mercy, is what enables me to have mercy on myself. And mercy on myself, I saw, naturally washes away self-condemnation with appreciation for who God made me to be, and willingness and readiness for Him to guide me.

Mercy is the love we feel from God when things get rough. It comforts and calms and shows us we're not the wretch we thought we were. A poem by Doris Peel, titled "Mercy," closes with these lines: "'Ah, dear heart—Now come! Stand up! See here is my hand, for yours to hold—' Mercy, the re-Mothering on this earth we share even of those who appear orphaned beyond recall."  Doris Peel, "Mercy," The Christian Science Monitor, December 12, 1985. So I decided to sit still and stop fighting with myself. I let God's love for me as His daughter fill my heart with the love that is rightfully mine. When I was finally willing to take the hand of mercy, it gently led me away from fixating on my mistakes.

Of course, the fifth beatitude is not exclusively about having mercy toward yourself. It can be even harder to feel mercy toward others, especially in instances where you feel that justice or even condemnation is what's needed more than mercy. But God is just and merciful. And He knows His children; God sees us as He made us—pure, whole, and free. Can I, too, come to see that the ones I'm ready to condemn are actually God's children? That's certainly how I want to be seen by others. This concept relates to a Biblical neighbor to the Beatitudes—the Golden Rule.  See Matt. 7:12. Knowing how I want to be thought of helps me think of others in that same way. And being the recipient of mercy has helped me realize how important it is to show mercy toward others.

Ultimately, all mercy and justice have their source in God. That means that when you're called upon to be merciful, you have the source of all mercy already at hand. If it feels too hard to show mercy toward someone, this passage from the Bible can help point the way: "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God."  II Cor 1:3, 4. Mercy would apply in the same way comfort does here—that we may be able to show mercy to them which are in any trouble, by the mercy which we ourselves have been shown by God. Because God is merciful, we are merciful.

In fact, mercy is included in a list of qualities in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures that characterize "the kingdom of heaven" reigning within us: "Let unselfishness, goodness, mercy, justice, health, holiness, love—the kingdom of heaven—reign within us, and sin, disease, and death will diminish until they finally disappear."  Science and Health, p. 248. I realize now that I'd regularly skipped over mercy in this important list.

The New Testament word for mercy used in the Greek text of the beatitude, eleeo, is defined as the compassion that springs from divine grace. I love the idea that being merciful—loving yourself and others with this kind of compassion—brings mercy. The New English Bible translation of the beatitude makes this message clear: "How blest are those who show mercy; mercy shall be shown to them."

God, divine Love, is making Himself known in our lives right now through love, care, and mercy. So whether you need a reassuring hug or you need to be hauled out of a pit or you're looking for a button to activate that escape hatch through the floor, divine mercy is ready to help, in the words of Doris Peel's poem, "as unpretentiously as a wing might curve to re-enfold a fallen fledgling...."  Peel, ibid.

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