“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Matthew 5:7
Even before looking into some treasure words here, I’m taken this morning back to a story, a true story. I’m taken back to a time when You, Jesus, were invited to a Pharisees house for dinner and You went. As was the custom during the day, You were there, reclined at the table. And this woman from the city, this woman “which was a sinner” shows up. Now, most scholars think this woman was a known prostitute in the city.
A known prostitute shows up with an expensive box of ointment, standing at Jesus’ feet and weeping. And the Pharisee recognizes her. People knew her and what she did for a living. And I wonder how she got to be that way? I mean, a prostitute doesn’t become a prostitute without partners, does she? And I wonder how a prostitute ever gets to stop being a prostitute if all she ever is in the eyes of the community around her is a prostitute? Just thinking.
But I digress. So she is standing at Jesus’ feet with this ointment and weeping. And she begins to wet His feet with her tears and to wipe His feet with her hair. And it doesn’t stop there. She’s kissing His feet, you know, with her lips! And anointing them with that ointment. And this Pharisee who had invited Jesus over for dinner is watching and thinking to himself, “How can you be a prophet if you don’t even know what kind of sinner this woman is? How can you even let the likes of her touch you? How can you let her sin soil you like that?” Well, I’m kind of reading into his words there, but that’s the gyst of it.
Now, I don’t personally know this woman. And I don’t personally know this Pharisee. But I do personally know the One who was there with them both. And it seems to me like that woman realized who Jesus really was and that the Pharisee really missed it. He was just standing in front of a prophet, another man of God. But she was kneeling before her Savior, before the throne of God Himself. Because, if I don’t see Jesus as God, well, I look pretty good before those standing around me. But if I see You Jesus as God, I’m just as much a sinner as the prostitute. And my offering You dinner and my religious position are pretty insignificant and soiled in comparison.
Now I don’t know why, but I find it interesting that up to this point, we don’t know the name of the Pharisee. But in verse 40, Jesus knows his very thoughts and we hear Jesus call him by name. “Simon.” Simon had expectations for Jesus. Jesus was a prophet. He was supposed to be a messenger of God. Messenger’s of God were supposed to act a certain way in his eyes. Letting this tainted woman touch Him was ungodly. Why? “This woman touched his feet (a potentially erotic gesture in those days). She let down her hair (the equivalent of bearing her breasts). She put herself in a submissive position before a strange man (a posture with sexual innuendo). And Yeshua allowed her to do so. He didn’t reject her. He didn’t rebuke her. He wasn’t offended.” (Skip Moen)
And at the point of Simon’s offense, Jesus says, “Simon.” Now, I just learned that it was Simon’s “responsibility to protect the honor and dignity of his guest.” Was he stepping up to that responsibility? How did he act to do so? Did he step in to stop this woman? How did he try to prevent what was happening? How was he honoring Jesus? He wasn’t.
Who are we socially responsible for? Are we protecting their honor? Would we snatch someone from the fire to protect their honor or just let them burn? Would we rather stand and pass judgment and blame or would we rather show mercy, justice, and compassion? See, Jesus has different expectations. He doesn’t do what’s proper. He does what’s right. He does what’s merciful. He snatches us away from the flames. He redeems and renews. He gives life and life abundantly to those who don’t deserve it because frankly, none of us deserve the life He gives.
So I want to listen to Your words, Jesus, to Simon, because they are to me, also. You could just as well be standing here, saying to me, “Sharon”. And you do and you are. “I have something to say to you.” “Say it, Lord.” “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” “You have judged rightly.”
“Simon, look at this woman. I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet [a responsible host would have done that, it’s part of honoring your guest], but she [this sinner prostitute] has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair [has honored me as you should have]. You gave me no kiss [I’m thinking someone honoring him or a friend would have], but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil [refreshing the guest with fragrant oil was a custom- Easton’s Bible Dictionary], but she has anointed my feet with ointment.” So if it was the first duty of a Hebrew host to make sure that his guest’s feet were washed, and even this was ignored, then what was this saying about Simon’s feelings toward Jesus? Jesus calls him out on this. “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven- for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little loves little.”(Luke 7)
Jesus is merciful. He forgives sins because He has the power to forgive sin. Jesus is merciful. He forgives sin because He came to do so. He came to call sinners to repentance. Why? Because sinners know they need to repent. Sinners know they aren’t worthy of accolades, but worthy of condemnation. He came as light, so that I wouldn’t remain in darkness. He came so that I would know the Truth and know the truth about myself and be saved from it.
I guess it all has to do with me understanding what mercy means for You, Jesus. The Greek idea saw it as a weakness of emotion. I feel sorry, so I release someone from punishment. But that just proved that my emotions were weak. The Hebrew idea of mercy, “hesed”, carries the idea of a stronger one coming to the aid of a weaker one. It’s a sign of Your covenant promise. God loves so He shows mercy. That mercy is the consequence of grace. When I’m loved in this way, when I understand this measure of love I’ve received, then I too want to display this love to others. Mercy in me is an overflow of the mercy that Christ has shown me by His demonstration of love in my own life.
“Happy the merciful, for they shall find mercy.” The ones who practice mercy, know what it looks like, they know what it feels like, they know what it acts like. The one who does mercy, is filled by the love that provokes mercy. This kind of mercy isn’t a common, normal thing. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe mercy takes an encounter with our loving God in order to show it. And I can’t experience it, I can’t receive it, until I recognize it in the first place. So maybe those whose eyes have been opened to recognize it, those who see their own need, extend it to others. And because they understand that need, Jesus fills that need. I can’t explain it. But somehow, we see that Jesus is merciful. We come to Him in need. We understand the need to show others mercy because we are in such dire need for mercy ourselves. And who showed us this need?
The One who satisfies our need is the One who showed us our need in the first place. I can’t explain this one. It’s more than me receiving a blessing and being shown mercy to because I showed mercy to someone else. I mean, how did I first learn how to show mercy? It absolutely doesn’t come naturally. But when I practice following You, Jesus, I’m enveloped in Your love which is accompanied by Your mercy and grace. And as I live in that, I receive more and more of it myself. But it’s not just for me. It’s for me to give to others. I become merciful because You are merciful and I am in You. And I am happy in You, regardless of what rights I must surrender to be merciful to others.
Oh, Lord, help me to learn this. I don’t want to learn a head knowledge. I want to know what this looks like in all the hard situations in my life. I want to know what it looks like and acts like in me to be merciful to those who aren’t merciful to me. How does it translate in my real life, that when others put me down and ridicule me, I’m merciful instead to them? What does it practically look like? How does it translate in real life?
You were merciful to both the prostitute and the Pharisee. I know the prostitute understood. Did Simon ever understand? I’ve been forgiven much. Am I forgiving much? How needy am I? Because it’s the needy who see their need. It’s the needy who receive.