THE BLISS OF PERFECT SYMPATHY
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Even as it stands this is surely a great saying; and it is the statement of a principle which runs all through the New Testament. The New Testament is insistent that to be forgiven we must be forgiving. As James had it: “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (Jas.2:13). Jesus finishes the story of the unforgiving debtor with the warning: “So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you; if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt. 18:35). The Lord’s Prayer is followed by the two verses which explain and underline the petition, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors”. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:12,14,15). It is the consistent teaching of the New Testament that indeed only the merciful shall receive mercy.
But there is even more to this beatitude than that. The Greek word for merciful is eleemon (GSN1655). But, as we have repeatedly seen, the Greek of the New Testament as we possess it goes back to an original Hebrew and Aramaic. The Hebrew word for mercy is checed (HSN2617); and it is an untranslatable word. It does not mean only to sympathize with a person in the popular sense of the term; it does not mean simply to feel sorry for someone ill trouble. Checed (HSN2617), mercy, means the ability to get right inside the other person’s skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings.
Clearly this is much more than an emotional wave of pity; clearly this demands a quite deliberate effort of the mind and of the will. It denotes a sympathy which is not given, as it were, from outside, but which comes from a deliberate identification with the other person, until we see things as he sees them, and feel things as he feels them. This is sympathy in the literal sense of the word. Sympathy is derived from two Greek words, sun (GSN4862) which means together with, and paschein (GSN3958) which means to experience or to suffer. Sympathy means experiencing things together with the other person, literally going through what he is going through.
This is precisely what many people do not even try to do. Most people are so concerned with their own feelings that they are not much concerned with the feelings of anyone else. When they are sorry for someone, it is, as it were, from the outside; they do not make the deliberate effort to get inside the other person’s mind and heart, until they see and feel things as he sees and feels them.
If we did make this deliberate attempt, and if we did achieve this identification with the other person, it would obviously make a very great difference.
(i) It would save us from being kind in the wrong way. There is one outstanding example of insensitive and mistaken kindness in the New Testament. It is in the story of Jesus’ visit to the house of Martha and Mary at Bethany (Lk.10:38-42). When Jesus paid that visit, the Cross was only a few days ahead. All that he wanted was an opportunity for so short a time to rest and to relax, and to lay down the terrible tension of living.
Martha loved Jesus; he was her most honoured guest; and because she loved him she would provide the best meal the house could supply. She bustled and scurried here and there with the clatter of dishes and the clash of pans; and every moment was torture to the tense nerves of Jesus. All he wanted was quiet.
Martha meant to be kind, but she could hardly have been more cruel. But Mary understood that Jesus wished only for peace. So often when we wish to be kind the kindness has to be given in our way, and the other person has to put up with it whether he likes it or not. Our kindness would be doubly kind, and would be saved from much quite unintentional unkindness, if we would only make the effort to get inside the other person.
(ii) It would make forgiveness, and it would make tolerance ever so much easier. There is one principle in life which we often forget–there is always a reason why a person thinks and acts as he does, and if we knew that reason, it would be so much easier to understand and to sympathize and to forgive. If a person thinks, as we see it, mistakenly, he may have come through experiences, he may have a heritage which has made him think as he does. If a person is irritable and discourteous, he may be worried or he may be in pain. If a person treats us badly, it may be because there is some idea in his mind which is quite mistaken.
Truly, as the French proverb has it, “To know all is to forgive all,” but we will never know all until we make the deliberate attempt to get inside the other person’s mind and heart.
(iii) In the last analysis, is not that what God did in Jesus Christ? In Jesus Christ, in the most literal sense, God got inside the skin of men. He came as a man; he came seeing things with men’s eyes, feeling things with men’s feelings, thinking things with men’s minds. God knows what life is like, because God came right inside life.
Queen Victoria was a close friend of Principal and Mrs. Tulloch of St. Andrews. Prince Albert died and Victoria was left alone. Just at the same time Principal Tulloch died and Mrs. Tulloch was left alone. All unannounced Queen Victoria came to call on Mrs. Tulloch when she was resting on a couch in her room. When the Queen was announced Mrs. Tulloch struggled to rise quickly from the couch and to curtsey. The Queen. stepped forward: “My dear,” she said, “don’t rise. I am not coming to you today as the queen to a subject, but as one woman who has lost her husband to another.”
That is just what God did; he came to men, not as the remote, detached, isolated, majestic God; but as a man. The supreme instance of mercy, checed (HSN1617), is the coming of God in Jesus Christ.
It is only those who show this mercy who will receive it. This is true on the human side, for it is the great truth of life that in other people we see the reflection of ourselves. If we are detached and disinterested in them, they will be detached and disinterested in us. If they see that we care, their hearts will respond in caring. It is supremely true on the divine side, for he who shows this mercy has become nothing less than like God.
So the translation of the fifth beatitude might read:
O the bliss of the man who gets right inside other people, until he can see with their eyes, think with their thoughts, feel with their feelings, for he who does that will find others do the same for him, and will know that that is what God in Jesus Christ has done!
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