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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #15: The Mercy of Forgiveness

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. -Matthew 5:7

Two complementary ideas can be found in Jesus’ teaching. The merciful are shown mercy. The forgivers are forgiven. These are not separate ideas in Jesus’ ministry. Showing mercy and forgiving are one in the same. As we surrender the debts that others ‘owe’ us into God’s hands, we change from people who have been wounded grudge bearers whose judgmental attitudes continue to trap us to people who are able to live in the freedom of mercy. For you who have never known the reality of this beatitude, I can tell you it is true.

As you grow towards wanting what God wants, you will find yourself also growing in compassion. Nothing will open your heart to other wounded people more than realizing how you acted when you were comforting yourself by sin in me choices. You finally see their pain too. Whereas before you were selfish, you are now seeing other’s wounds as being as important as your own.

There is a distinction between compassion and the mercy of this blessing. Lots of people care about those who are hurting, even in the midst of their own painful lives. Transformation is not an earthly prerequisite to compassionate activities. Lots of damaged people go into the field of counseling because they themselves need counseling. Many go into the ministry no healthier than those they shepherd—not that much job satisfaction comes out of this. There are many organizations advocating for the poor and oppressed that care nothing for God’s transformational process. There is more to this blessing than compassion.

Instead, this blessing is rooted in what Jesus meant by mercy. Mercy is being spared the justice one so richly deserves. Merciful people are those who are not exacting retribution from those who have earned it. What you must see in what Jesus was saying about those who are being transformed is that, as they become like him, they begin to experience the same compassion for the people who wounded them that he demonstrated towards those who crucified him.

When I tell people whom I am encouraging to launch out on this journey that one day they will be able to forgive those who hurt them, they either laugh or become angry. The last thing that will ever happen, in their minds, is that those responsible for their wounds would ever be pardoned. But this is a critical sign of progress. How do you know you are being transformed? You begin to understand the wounded souls of the ones who made your life hellish. You realize they did to you what was done previously to them, maybe not in exactly the same way or intensity, but certainly resulting in the same kind of damage.

For example, nothing will change your attitude towards having compassion for the parents whom you may hold responsible for your wounds more completely than learning their history. Finding that your grandparents were also depraved may be a surprise to you! Or learning that your parents were traumatized by life may enlighten you towards the blessing of this beatitude. Being merciful is about being able to give to others what you so truly needed yourself from God.

Remember that you will never get here in your own power. You will not become merciful and forgiving because you are supposed to. The good news of the blessed is that the Spirit will do this in you. And when he does, you will be amazed at how your heart has been changed.

-Steve Smith