“Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy.”
When I entered on this theme, looking at the Beatitudes as a code for spiritual ascent, I saw something in the start and finish of these eight paired phrases, but feared I might be straining a bit to maintain the theme through the middle. Confirmation bias may be at work, but I am increasingly affected by what I cannot deny as a profoundly meaningful spiritual progression described through the order of the Beatitudes.
That mercy is placed just here in the sequence, is poignant. We considered in the previous post the problem that righteousness can become self-righteousness. As noted earlier, all virtue can be corrupted into vice. In its simplest form, the vice of corrupted righteousness is legalism. The harshness of this disposition can render us rather unpleasant to be around, not to mention uncomfortable in our own skin. Mercy tempers law. This does not mean that the righteousness we have craved and ingested is to be expelled. The natural law on which righteousness is founded is immutable. And no mercy can be shown but against the standards of this law. In our selves though, if we are not spiritually prepared, righteousness can become delusional. And a power that can be used to bring goodness and order into the world turns us into petty, moralizing despots. We are reminded of Jesus’ statement from later in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2
This passage deserve more than a post of its own. For now though let us view it in the light of what we have been considering. Again, we may have been used to seeing Jesus’ words eschatologically; that on Judgement Day we will be judged for our condemnation of others. Though we may hold this as ultimately true, there is a very natural, immediate psycho-spiritual echo in every judgement. As any pronouncement leaves our lips it speaks not only to the one condemned but bounces back to ourselves. This opens a much larger issue about our capacity to language and reason. How this capacity naturally conveys us into a realm of ideas and ideals; how this is the efficient cause for our spiritual nature and why such nature is not merely disillusion, but orders itself into systems and narratives, such as we are considering in this Lenten series on the Beatitudes.
Distraction aside, the righteousness we ingest is not to earn us the seat of judgement. Rather it gives us insight into what is good and what is best, and the application of this knowledge is always toward the benefit of our siblings, and so to our community in general. As the Master says in his absurdest style:
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5
Wisdom is righteousness applied with mercy.
Further, our delusion in this matter can take a much darker intention. If we take the understanding we’ve gained in righteousness to be significant and profound, we must also consider that we have gained some power in this awakening. Taking righteousness in the full sense, as we have earlier, it is not understood as trite moralism, but rather as knowledge of natural law, especially as this is manifest in human psycho-spirituality. Simply put, having this knowledge puts us in advantage over those who do not have it. This makes real a temptation for abusing this power. Though I have not read it, I understand the Satanic Bible is in many ways a manual for just this abuse of personal power. To break with Nietzchean master-etiquette, this is evil. Though the practitioners of this evil may consider themselves clever. Their understanding is clouded. They have not learned to see the wholeness of things and their own healthy place in community. This is the morality of the parasite; blinded by greed, it knows nothing but to seek its own advantage, even to its own destruction.
In a more day-to-day example, many have seen relationships where one of the couple has the upper hand spiritually. The other is manipulated and controlled because they are powerless to the dominating presence of the more awake spouse. If nothing else, in Christ we are ever challenged to use whatever we posses to encourage others in goodness and health. As we gain spiritual goods and the power associated with them, we are admonished to use these mercifully; to use them to heal and not to harm.
How we actually grow as Christians is seldom elaborated today. It may be discussed, but only in vague terms. Platitudes, comforting encouragement, but never anything systematic. The state of the Church, just hanging on to belief in the current age, may not leave much time for indulgences such as transcendent spiritual growth. But this tends to leave us ever at the door of our first conversion; ever a sinner in need of redemption, always at the place of the impoverished spirit and never moving forward to the admittedly precarious responsibility that comes with knowledge of righteousness. We should be wary to see our salvation as something merely done for us, that we are entirely worthless, and any goodness we accomplish is quaint but ultimately meaningless. On the contrary we have been called to participate in this world with Christ. And this vocation requires deep knowledge and courageous wisdom, ever softened by mercy. As Matthew recorded Jesus saying in Chapter 10:16:
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Image: Detail from The Prodigal Son, Giorgio de Chirico 1965