Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy
So far the beatitudes have focused on society's 'have-nots': the poor, those who mourn, the meek, and those longing for righteousness/justice. But this one seems to shift focus onto people in a position of power; those able to give or withhold mercy. My expert guide to the beatitudes, Glen Stassen, suggests that Jesus expressed mercy in two main ways. One was forgiveness of sin, and the other was forgiving debt. He points to the story in Luke of the woman ("who was a sinner") anointing Jesus' feet with ointment and her tears. Simon the Pharisee expresses shock that Jesus would allow such a woman to touch him, and Jesus responds with a parable about a creditor who forgave one man a large debt, and the other man a smaller debt. "Which of them will love him (the creditor more?", asks Jesus. Simon is forced to concede that the one who was forgiven the large debt. Jesus then then praises the woman for her extravagant display of love (in comparison to Simon), and on that basis announces that her sins ("which were many") are forgiven.
For Stassen it's Jesus' combination of spiritual forgiveness and material justice, which makes this an exemplary story about mercy.
However, in Wellington we have a well know religious order called the Sisters of Mercy. My mission this month is to try and talk with one of the sisters about their take on mercy. I figure they must have thought about it quite a bit. I hope so!