How can we extend forgiveness to those who’ve caused us pain? How do we resist the urge for revenge when we feel wronged? In this thought-provoking episode, we grapple with an often-overlooked virtue—mercy.
We navigate the tricky balance between justice and grace, all through the lens of the Beatitude 5: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
If you’re seeking to understand mercy at a deeper level, to not only forgive but to empathize and love, then this episode is a must-listen. You’ll learn how embracing mercy can positively transform your life, help you find forgiveness, and spread a love that can change the world.
This episode is part of an enriching series ‘8 Keys to Happiness: The Beatitudes’. To understand how happiness can be less of a fleeting emotion and more of a conscious state of being, make sure to catch up on our previous episodes and stay tuned for the rest of the series!
Mentioned in the show: Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald and Nikolaus of Haguenau
Admit it—you’ve held a grudge toward someone before. Maybe it was for a petty grievance, like your coworker who always takes your favorite parking spot, or the barista who never gets your order quite right. Or maybe you’re holding onto anger for something more serious, like toward a former partner who treated you poorly or a family member who scorned you for your identity or beliefs. Maybe you’ve even held a grudge against yourself for your past mistakes or moments where you didn’t live up to your own perfectionist expectations.
Grudges and anger like this leaves you feeling bitter, vindictive, with a thirst to get even. You want them to know how badly they’ve hurt you. Maybe you fight with yourself because part of you wants them to experience cosmic punishment for their actions.
Now, think about a time you experienced mercy: a friend who was patient with you on a bad day, the stranger who gave up their seat so you could sit with your family, the partner who forgave you for a selfish moment. Unlike your grudges, these moments of mercy leave you feeling warm, loved, and like the Universe is a friendly place.
Experiencing anger and longing for mercy are both facets of our human experience. But how do we reconcile these seemingly different emotions? Is it possible to hold others—and ourselves—accountable while pursuing a path of forgiveness? Mercy? A softness towards the people who’ve hurt us?
These are the heavy questions at the heart of the fifth Beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” Holding space for both justice and forgiveness is complex—but through the lesson of giving and receiving mercy in this beatitude, you have a roadmap for how to achieve this delicate balance.
Welcome back to the Holy Rebels Podcast. I’m so happy you’re here, and I’m so grateful for the enthusiasm on the reviews. This one’s from Shobha from the United States. She says, “Love this podcast – it’s fresh, nuanced and allows you to see humanity with whole new eyes. It leaves you feeling so much more zest for life and a sense that your problem of the moment is actually a gateway to a deeper connection with the Divine Thank you Nina” Yay! Thank you, Shobha. That means a lot. I read every single review, and it really helps me, so thank you to those of you who are taking a moment out of your day to write me a review.
Ok. We’re exploring a series about The Beatitudes, 8 Keys to Happiness. Each beatitude is an invitation to connect personally with the divine and experience more joy, purpose, and fulfillment in your life. Since this is a 9-part series, I recommend listening in order. The introduction to the Beatitudes is episode #8. You can scroll back and find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you’re listening to this show.
The Beatitudes are the very heart of spirituality. They are the manifesto of Christianity, but they’re more than that. Of course, they’re Christian because they’re the 8 wisdom sayings of Jesus, BUT they’re so universal that they’re bigger than religion. They have nothing to do with doctrine or The Church, so if you’re listening to this and you aren’t Christian, don’t worry. These are absolutely applicable to YOU.
The Beatitudes are the paradoxical keys to happiness, the pinnacle of what it means to be a good human, wrapped up in 8 simple yet incredibly layered teachings. They turn everything upside down. They seem so easy, but this is a lifelong challenge to implement them as a ‘way of life’. The Beatitudes are a lifestyle of happiness, joy, peace, and love.
Today, we’re discussing the fifth beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
I love this one because it’s quintessentially human. It speaks to our innate desire for fairness and justice, but it also challenges us to rise above our natural tendencies of judgment.
Mercy is often associated with forgiveness, but it’s much more than that. Mercy is an act of kindness and compassion towards those who may not ‘deserve’ it. It’s a willingness to see the humanity in others, even when they may have hurt us.
In our society, we often glorify revenge and holding grudges. We see mercy as weakness or letting someone ‘get away’ with something. But in reality, mercy is one of the greatest acts of courage and strength a person can show.
It takes a strong person to forgive and extend kindness to those who have wronged them…. but I’m not going to give you a moral lecture. You already know these things. I want to talk about the deeper mystical teaching on mercy, because it has the power to truly transform your life if you understand and implement it.
What does it mean to be merciful?
This is hard because we have a double standard with mercy. On one hand, when we make a mistake, we want forgiveness . We want understanding, empathy, for someone to see that we had good intentions, and even if we didn’t have the best intentions, even if we were careless, we want the other person to see that we’re actually decent, kind, loving people in general. We just made a mistake. Cut me some slack! Right?
We love to receive mercy, but when somebody else makes a mistake, particularly one that affects us, all hell breaks loose. We’re ready to take them to the guillotine! It sounds really funny and extreme, but it’s true. We want them to get what they DESEREVE, right? We have a double standard. We want forgiveness , but we’re often stingy with being merciful towards others.
We also don’t easily show ourselves mercy either. What would happen if you extended the same kindness towards yourself that you often reserve for your best friend? How might your life be different if you allowed yourself to make mistakes without punishing yourself?
Mercy requires humility. Humility can be a paradoxical concept. It doesn’t always imply an excess of ego; in fact, it can be quite the opposite. A lack of humility can manifest as being overly critical of yourself, or feeling a deep sense of shame, or not feeling good enough, or being absorbed in your mistakes.
CS Lewis says, “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
If you find yourself being excessively harsh on yourself, you’re denying yourself mercy and, quite frankly, being a little self-centred. Remember, perfection is an illusion. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to be human. Have mercy on yourself.
This Beatitude is saying that if you hold onto the wrongs that have been done to you, you can’t receive the grace that God is trying to give you. This is mystical logic.
If you’re holding onto a grudge, if you feel resentful on some level, then you can not receive the goodness that the Universe is trying to give you right now. Your bitterness is like a dam, holding back the river of love that God is pouring into your life right now.
The mystical law of the fifth Beatitude says you can not hold onto pain and accept love at the same time. It’s impossible.
You can’t hold on to unforgiveness and accept forgiveness. That’s not how Divine Justice works. The principle of reciprocal justice, an eye-for-an-eye, measure for measure, that’s not Cosmic Law. If you’re stingy with mercy towards others, it’s like you’re blocking the flow of Divine Mercy towards yourself.
I know it’s really, really hard but when you extend mercy to people who don’t deserve it, we shall be received mercy for what you’ve done. Happiness belongs to those who don’t give what is deserved to the people around them, happiness belongs to those who give people what they need.
The Divine Justice of the Universe is mercy. The logic of God says, “I know you messed up, but I’m not going to treat you according to what you deserve. Instead, I will show you love.”
Neil Douglas Klotz beautifully translates this beatitude from Aramaic. He says, “Blessed are those who, from their inner wombs, birth mercy; they shall feel its warm arms embrace them.”
Have you ever felt the warm embrace of Divine Mercy around you? Have you ever experienced a moment in your life where you felt incredibly fortunate, lucky, and blessed, even though you believed you didn’t deserve such an outcome? Somehow, the Universe smiled upon you and bestowed upon you something that you desperately needed?
Experiencing Divine Mercy is like basking in the warm, golden light of the morning sun after the coldest, darkest night. It’s a joy that is pure, radiant. It touches every fiber of your being, and illuminates the darkest corners of your heart. It’s a feeling of being cherished and held, a feeling that makes your heart swell with gratitude and your eyes well up with tears of joy.
It feels like a gentle rain after a drought, refreshing and revitalizing, giving life to the parched ground of your soul. You know that you’re valued and that you matter, despite your mistakes, despite your past. There’s a reassuring feeling that you’re not alone.
Divine Mercy is seeing a lighthouse in the middle of a turbulent sea. It’s sudden hope. No matter how far you’ve strayed, no matter how lost you feel, there’s a light leading you back home. A light of filled with forgiveness and unconditional love.
This euphoria, this bliss, is the gift of Divine Mercy. And you know what? It’s your birthright. All you need to do is say yes, and it’s here. If you can say yes to receiving the goodness that’s trying to give itself to you, then you understand the meaning of happiness.
The contemporary mystic Cynthia Bourgeault articulates it this way. She says, “Hope’s home is at the innermost point in us, and in all things. It is a quality of aliveness. It does not come at the end, as the feeling that results from a happy outcome. Rather, it lies at the beginning, as a pulse of truth that sends us forth. When our innermost being is attuned to this pulse it will send us forth in hope, regardless of the physical circumstances of our lives. Hope fills us with the strength to stay present, to abide in the flow of the Mercy no matter what outer storms assail us. It is entered always and only through surrender; that is, through the willingness to let go of everything we are presently clinging to. And yet when we enter it, it enters us and fills us with its own life — a quiet strength beyond anything we have ever known.”
Isn’t it beautiful to think about? Mercy, with a life of its own, endlessly flowing from one heart to another without expecting anything in return. It’s a force that moves us to act, to reach out, to offer comfort and care. As we extend mercy to others, we also invite it into our own lives, discovering a depth of compassion within ourselves that we didn’t know we have. The act of giving mercy is, in itself, an act of receiving. When mercy flows through us, we realize that we are all connected. And in this realization, we find a sense of joy. Mercy does not just exist; it lives, it breathes, it grows – within us and among us.
An inspired selfless act, one that’s driven by genuine empathy and compassion is about extending a hand to those who are suffering, not out of pity or obligation, but out of a sincere desire to alleviate their pain. When you show that kind of mercy, you forget yourself. You don’t expect anything in return. The act of giving mercy is its own reward. It’s like Divine Mercy is acting through you.
When you extend compassion to others, you will find that your own prayers are answered. Not because the universe is rewarding you for good behaviour. There is no cosmic being judging your behaviour as good and bad by human moral standards. In order to be merciful towards another person, you have to be attuned to the source of mercy itself because mercy requires you to step out of yourself. Mercy is selfless.
Showing mercy involves stepping outside your own concerns and needs, and stepping into the shoes of another. It’s about surrendering your self-centered perspectives and understanding the world from the viewpoint of the person in front of you. This is not always easy. It requires you to connect with your own vulnerability, your own experiences of pain and suffering, and use that understanding to connect with others. That’s the kind of love that can change the world.
There’s a Greek to English translation of this Beatitude that I love. It goes, “Happy are those moved to help someone in need, they will experience and be shown the comfort they give”.
The beauty of the Beatitudes isn’t exclusive to Christianity. The concept of mercy can be found in many different religions and philosophies. In Buddhism, it’s embodied in the practice of compassion and loving-kindness towards all beings. In Judaism, Mercy is seen as a divine attribute on the Tree of Life.
One of the things you may commonly hear is that justice must be tempered with mercy, but these aren’t two aspects that we need to keep in balance. Mercy is the Divine Justice. It’s like the sunlight that warms the earth, causing seeds to germinate and plants to grow. Mercy is not a flimsy act of kindness; it’s a fundamental aspect of cosmic justice. Without mercy, justice becomes cold and unyielding, punishing rather than setting all things right.
Just think about it – if we all received strict justice for every mistake or transgression we’ve ever made, where would we be? Would any of us truly deserve to be happy or feel a sense of forgiveness? Probably not. But with mercy, there’s always a way to restore the wrongs that have been done. Mercy makes redemption possible. It’s not about dismissing harm, but about offering a path towards healing.
The 20th century American mystic Thomas Merton talks about Mercy this way he says, “Mercy is a fierce, bonding love—like the bond between committed lovers. It is not about pity, but about passion. Mercy is fidelity, it is also strength. It is ultimate and unfailing because it is the power that binds one person to another, in a covenant of hearts.”
I love this so much. It exquisitely captures the nature of mercy. It challenges our perspective. Mercy isn’t a moment of failure to be strong. It’s a powerful expression of love, strength and courage.
The ultimate example of mercy is Jesus of Nazareth. I want to look at this example with fresh eyes, solely through the lens of this Beatitude. We’re not talking about dogma or belief, so put aside any notion of religion, and let’s see what this man lived.
Jesus was fully human. He experienced all the suffering that we experience. And yet, he chose to live in a way that embodied Divine Mercy. He showed mercy towards homeless people, the sick, the misfits, those who society deemed unworthy or unclean. He also showed mercy towards the people who hatred him and mistreated him.
There’s a painting called the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald and Nikolaus of Haguenau. It was painted in the late middle ages as an altarpiece for a the Monastery of St Anthony, but it’s now in a Museum in France.
It’s a larger-than-life tableaux of the Crucifixion. It’s one of the most spiritually powerful and brutally realistic depictions of the crucifixion in western art. If you’re not Catholic, you’re even less used to seeing intense suffering, but it’s worth describing because I’m making a point. You can look it up in the Show Notes to this episode, I’ve included it there.
In the painting. Jesus’ mouth is open in speechless anguish. He has open wounds in his hands and his feet, blisters all over his body. There’s nothing sentimental about this portrayal. The great mystic theologian Thomas Aquinas said,.” If you want the perfect exemplification of the beatitudes, look to Jesus crucifed.” And then he said, “if you want to be happy, despise what Jesus despised on the cross, and love what Jesus loved on the cross”. … That’s very confusing. What does that mean? Well, what did Jesus despise? Well, he resisted all the typical temporary sources of happiness: fame, fortune, pleasure and power. He has none of it.
He’ s stripped naked. Pleasure? He’s at the limit of psychological and physical suffering. Power? He has none, he’s nailed to the cross. He can’t even move. Fame? The mob was mocking him as he’s publicly displayed, crucified at the end of his life. Jesus is detached from the four things in which we typically seek our happiness. Fame, fortune, pleasure and power .
And what did he love on the cross? The Beatitudes. Jesus was single-hearted about The Divine. He was the poor in spirit, the one who mourns, the meek, the merciful. Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker, the ultimate bearer of Divine Mercy.
Though it’s very strange to say, though it’s a very high paradox, if, Aquinas is right, it means that this painting, the Isenheim Altarpiece, is a picture of a happy man. And there’s more. On the right lower side of the painting, you see John the Baptist pointing at Jesus. John’s arm and fingers are incredibly contorted, which strikes the viewer as off because the rest of this painting is so realistic. John’s twisted way of pointing at Jesus says to us that all of our expectations have to be turned around, and then we can see that this painting is indeed a picture, of freedom. This painting is a picture of joy.
Instead of trying to fill the spiritual void with fame, fortune, pleasure and power, Jesus emptied his ego and became free.
We try to fill the void with things that we believe will make us happy, but it’s only the emptying out of the ego that paradoxically fills us with happiness. The Beatitudes are a formula for detachment.
So, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven means…
Blessed are you if you’re not attached to material things, if your stuff isn’t the centre of your concern. If Love is your ultimate concern, then not only will you not become addicted to materialism, but you’ll use your material resources for good.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted means…
How lucky you are if you’re not addicted to plesant sensations. Emotional and psychological happiness are fantastic when you have them, but they’re finite. If your happiness relies on feeling good, you will be very unhappy indeed.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
This is about spiritual freedom and detachment. How fortunate you are if you don’t rely on a worldly power. If you’re detached from needing to be right and have influence over people, then you can become a conduit of true Divine Power to the world.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven….
If the call to embrace spiritual poverty challenges our addiction to material possessions, and the invitation to mourn counters our addiction to fleeting good feelings, and the desire for meekness obstructs our addiction to power, then it is persecution that stands in the way of our addictive attachment to seeking approval from others.
The Beatitudes offer a freedom that allows you to find true happiness, not in material possessions, not in fleeting pleasures, not in the amount of influence you have over others, but in Love. Happiness is living a life of Love.
One of the last things Jesus said before he was brutally murdered was “Forgive them, they know not what they do”. If that’s not the best example of the fifth Beatitude, I don’t know what is. I hope you can see that Mercy isn’t an abstract theology, it’s something you can do. Choose love, especially when you’re being mistreated and you are enacting Cosmic Justice and setting things right in the world.
I hope that our conversation today is helping you understand the Beatitudes, not just on an intellectual level, but on a deep soul level. It’s my hope that you feel empowered by these teachings and that you know that you deserve happiness, true happiness.
I want you to be happy, and for you to recognize that you truly deserve happiness. Despite the seeming paradoxes and the challenges you’re facing in your life right now, remember that you have an innate ability to find true fulfillment in Love, loving those you have been given to love and embodying the Divine.
Oh ya, and I have a gift for you! It’s a masterclass called, “3 Keys to Unlock Your Connection to The Divine” Normally this is $97 but you can grab it right now for free at mysticalspirituality.com
This masterclass will help you listen to your intuition, trust your gut, and embody these spiritual principles into your life. It’s a 40-minute video class, and you get a beautiful Workbook filled with journal prompts and practical exercises for being a better human. Go to mysticalspirituality.com to get it for free.
I’m so excited to talk to you again next week! Meanwhile, enjoy the masterclass. I believe in you. You were born for this. Trust the mystic within you.