As you read and reflect on today’s beatitude, please listen to this track from contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. We will feature this track throughout Lent.
The word mercy feels good just to hear or say it. Mercy! Our Greek speaking brothers and sisters in the Eastern Church hear the word mercy and think of healing. That is because the word mercy is a translation of the Greek word eleos, which comes from the same root word as the word for olive oil, eleon. In Biblical times olive oil was not just used for cooking, but also as a soothing balm for healing. Olive oil was poured into a wound and gently massaged to soothe and comfort (see Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:34). To cry Kyrie eleison, “Lord have mercy”, for Greek speaking people means: “Lord, soothe and comfort me, taking away my pain”.
Greek scholar Marvin Vincent defines mercy (eleos) as “kindness toward the miserable and afflicted, joined with a desire to relieve them” (Word Studies in the New Testament). For Jesus, showing mercy encompasses three elements: recognizing a need; a desiring to meet that need; then taking action to meet the need. Mercy is more than pity or feeling sympathy for someone hurting. Mercy shows itself in action, whether towards a friend or foe.
Mercy has a wide range of meanings in the Gospels, but always involves concrete action and not just feelings. For Jesus, mercy can mean to forgive sins (Matthew 18:33-35), to show love (Matthew 9:13), to provide physical healing (Matthew 9:27), and give deliverance to those who are demonized (Matthew 15:22). A related word to mercy (eleos) means to show mercy by giving money to the poor (eleemosyne, Matthew 6:2-4).
Jesus directed that mercy be demonstrated to outcasts (Matthew 9:10-13) and foreigners (Matthew 15:21-28). Jesus was concerned that attention to religious rites and duty not detract from the “weightier matters of the law”, such as showing mercy to the vulnerable and undeserving (Matthew 23:23).
One of the bright lights in history is the mercy that Jesus’ followers have shown. For example, there is no evidence of hospitals until the Christian era. Hospitals were begun by Christians wanting to show God’s mercy. Travel anywhere in the world, and you are likely to find a hospital or hospice established by Christians. The merciful are healers longing to put right what has gone wrong, wherever they find it. They find that in showing mercy, they themselves are blessed.
PONDER AND PRAY
“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”—Luke 6:35-36
- Take a few moments to meditate on the image of Luke 10:34 where the Good Samaritan shows “mercy”, pouring and gently massaging olive oil into the wounds of the man beaten and left for dead.
- Think of someone you know, friend or foe, who needs mercy. The mercy might be in the form of forgiveness, money, help for healing, a demonstration of love, (see above). First, pray for that person; then take an active step today to show them that the heavenly Father is merciful.
- What do you want To Say To God?