Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).
This Beatitude presents a chicken-egg problem. It implies that to receive mercy, we must first give it.
But what about grace? Yesterday was Christmas, after all, when we celebrate divine mercy coming to human beings short on mercy for each other.
For example, Herod, governor of occupied Judah, finds the birth of a baby threatening. So he tries to trick a troupe of traveling astrologers into bringing him intel to locate and nail the kid. A man and his very pregnant bride journey to pay their taxes. Yet, they cannot get a decent room for the night. Shepherds, deemed the lowest of the low in that society, watch and wait in the cold night for God-knows-what.
Nevertheless, the baby arrives in a stable that proves good enough. The astrologers prove themselves wise by paying homage and steering down a road away from Pilate. The shepherds rush in breathless from an angelic visit, having seen more beauty and truth in a night than the wealthiest and most powerful will see in a lifetime.
And your faith and mine, however our stories differ, very likely start with some unmerited, unexpected arrival, some gift, grace that defies the narratives of necessity and survival of the fittest. Mercy touched us first. It knocked us off our feet, and if we regained our bearings enough to stand erect and walk a straight line, we probably offered mercy to someone who needed some of it for themselves because we had more than we needed.
So why does Jesus promise that after giving mercy, we receive mercy? Because, for one thing, mercy is a gift that keeps giving. God’s love is limitless, and when we get caught up in it, an abundant feast, a making love in which the joy of giving and the joy of receiving blissfully entwine until they become indistinguishable.
Moreoever, consider the word, “receive.” The Beatitude does not say, “Blessed are the merciful, for God will have mercy on them.” It says they will “receive” mercy. God’s offer is always on the table. Will you receive mercy? Will you reach out like a little child, not asking whether you earned it or owe anything for it but just take it because you want it and the Giver loves to give it to you?
If you answer yes, then your Christmas did not end yesterday. It continues today. Look: As far as the eye can see, gifts for you to unwrap wait under every tree.