Mercy is not a quality we expect to see much these days. Instead, our eyes, ears and emotions are assaulted daily, even hourly in the case of radio and TV news items, by violence, injustice, willful stubbornness, intransigence, bigotry, scams, prejudice and intolerance. Acts of mercy are so rare that, when they do occur, they make headline news, replete with pictures, in newspapers and magazines and on television.
Perhaps because the Bible is so readily available in the Western world, our culture admires mercy. Ancient Rome did not share our admiration. Romans spoke of four cardinal virtues: wisdom, justice, temperance and courage—but not mercy. The Interpreter’s Bible states that the Romans despised pity! The Greeks held similar views, thinking that mercy indicated weakness rather than strength. Aristotle wrote that pity was a troublesome emotion.
The Pharisees, harsh in their self-righteous judgments of others, showed little mercy. Jesus saying of them in Matthew 23:23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the other undone.” This difference makes apparent how far apart God and men are on the value we should place upon specific qualities of character.
We need to remind ourselves from time to time that the Beatitudes represent signs of those who are truly Christ’s disciples. They help identify those upon whom God’s blessings rest to aid them in living joyfully. From another angle, they describe the nature of true happiness.