Mercy has a really distancing connotation. It’s used most frequently in circumstances where we describe people as acting without it, usually in horrible, unforgiveable ways. It’s also attached often to “justice”, another word with lots of heavy meaning. Yet despite being rather unfamiliar, we want mercy because on the surface, this Beatitude reminds us to give mercy so we can get it. It sounds transactional. You get what you give, and the move you give, the more you get. But under the surface, mercy isn’t transactional. It’s transformational.
True mercy removes all barriers between the self and other. When someone wrongs me, I feel separate from that individual. I can forgive that individual, and on the surface, all will be well. Or I can show mercy to that individual, and by that I mean truly try to understand that person, get inside her skin, feel what she felt. If I am able to do that, that person is no longer “the one who harmed me” or more simply, “other”. I’m closer to that person. She may never know I’ve shown her mercy. Perhaps mercy, like prayer, is best done silently, without trumpeting our intentions, our goodness, our intentional holiness.
Mercy has a transformative effect on our hearts. The more we work to acknowledge others, to truly see them and feel their burdens and motivations, the more open our hearts become. The fewer “others” are out there. Ultimately, that’s how we receive mercy…with each person we grow closer to, the less alone we are, and the closer we grow to God.