And Yeshua sat down, and taught the people…starting with the Beatitudes and continuing on through the Sermon on the Mount. I have long thought that even though this particular set of teachings is found only once in Matthew (and partially in Luke), that Yeshua, in his three years of public ministry, would have repeated his different lessons and parables several times, to different audiences and people. But without the benefit of full time scribes or modern recording devices, those who later wrote down the synoptic Gospels were forced to deal with either their own memories, or the oral traditions which they were then recording. This isn’t the only problem in trying to determine the concepts that Yeshua was teaching; even after they were translated into English, we still have to be careful to not only look at the words that are recorded, but also to bring them into our current frame of reference in the 21st century.
Yeshua taught the people, saying “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. ” At first glance, this Beatitude seems to be a foreshadowing of the Golden Rule, (found in Matthew 7:12) but even with that comparison, it still seems appropriate to ask the question, what does it mean to be merciful?
When we find ourselves with a question that starts with “What does it mean …?”, the logical starting point is the dictionary. So at www.dictionary.com, I looked up the word merciful. The definition that resulted was: “full of mercy; compassionate”.
Now ‘compassionate’ is a word that I have used many times, but to be consistent, I thought that I would look it up as well. This definition was less helpful, except in yielding another word to look up. Compassionate: “Feeling or showing compassion.” So I was off to look up the root word, compassion. Here is what I found. Compassion: “Deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it.”
After all that work, it seems that we have simply circled around, and find ourselves back in familiar territory, once again: the needs of others; because it isn’t very much of a stretch to go from the ‘suffering of others’ to the ‘ needs of others’. In fact, learning to identify with the suffering of others is one of the first steps to learning to put their needs ahead of our own needs. This is part of the process that Paul writes about: learning to become spiritual man, or learning to be in higher self. The idea of higher self in this case gives us a hint about how to become aware of another’s suffering. By being in higher self, we can imagine being a spirit looking down on the situation that someone finds themselves in, from above. This isn’t to say that we look down on them in a judgmental way, or somehow see ourselves as “better than they are” - because we wouldn’t be in that situation or we wouldn’t have done what they did. Instead, the vantage point of the higher self lets us take an objective look at the situation that others find themselves in, and gives us the ability to determine how best to help them. This is one of the advantages of being able to reach out with a merciful hand from the higher self.
The other word which stood out in this Beatitude was the word ‘obtain’. The verse closes with the phrase “…for they shall obtain mercy.” The use of the word ‘obtain’ in this instance seems to be meant to convey a specific idea. In the article God helps those… I wrote about the fact that we should take responsibility for doing what we can to help God improve our situation. With the word ‘obtain’, Yeshua confirms this line of thinking. Some translations have changed ‘obtain’ to ‘find’. But even to say ‘find’ indicates that we must do something, such as begin the search for that which we seek, in order to find it; but to obtain or acquire, makes it clear that the mercy we obtain is a direct result of the mercifulness that we give to others!
And so we are called, through this Beatitude, to learn to show mercy and compassion to those around us, and to learn to put their needs ahead of our own. As we learn to do this, we are blessed indeed.
Grace and peace to you all,