Reflection: This beatitude adds more practical content to the “righteousness” for which we hunger. What does being “merciful” mean? Often we think it refers to forgiving those who have wronged us. Just as God forgives us, so we are to forgive—or be merciful—to others. This is a possible way to read Matthew 5:7, and Jesus does teach the theme elsewhere (Matthew 18:21-35). But this probably isn’t what Jesus means here.
One of the best kept secrets of modern Bible reading is that human ‘mercy’ in the Bible almost always means what we now call ‘charity’—i.e., showing pity on someone’s plight. The next time we read of ‘mercy’ in Matthew’s Gospel is at the start of the next chapter of the Sermon on the Mount: “So when you give to the needy do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do” (Matthew 6:2). The words translated “give to the needy” are simply poiēs eleēmosunē: “do mercy”. The same is true of the next two verses: “But when you give to the needy (literally: ‘do mercy’), do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving (literally: ‘your mercy’) may be in secret” (Matthew 6:3-4). Many other examples could be offered.
The point is clear: The ‘merciful’ in this beatitude are those who care for the plight of the needy. They share in the mind and heart of God, and will themselves receive God’s mercy. Showing mercy—i.e., caring for those in need—is a chief sign that you know God’s mercy for yourself.
Question: How might you better reflect the mercy of God in “doing mercy” to others?