In the Matthean arrangement the second set of four beatitudes (Mt 5: 7-10) begins with the beatitude of the merciful (Mt 5: 7). These beatitudes are not paralleled in Luke. While the first four beatitudes (Mt 5: 3-6) generally presented a situation of dependence on God, an attitude of waiting upon God to act, the second set of beatitudes emphasizes the need for action and active virtues. In other words, these beatitudes are concerned with Christian attitudes which are rooted in the teaching of Jesus elsewhere in the gospels.
Mercy is an important attribute of God, especially in the Old Testament. One of the earliest creeds of Israel affirms that God is merciful and kind: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34: 6). The God of mercy wants also his people to be merciful. Without mercy even the highest form of worship is not acceptable to God: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Hos 6: 6). Jesus himself quoted this text of Hosea twice and emphatically affirmed the importance of mercy (Cf. Mt 9: 13; 12: 7). According to Luke 6: 36, Jesus wants his followers to be “merciful as the heavenly Father is merciful.” The parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew’s gospel (Mt 18: 23-35) clearly tells us what God expects from us: we who have received God’s mercy must be ready to show mercy and forgiveness to others. In the final judgement too those who will receive reward are people who have been kind and merciful to others. In other words, the final judgement of God is also based on mercy shown to others (Mt 25: 31-46). The beatitude, “blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5: 7) is a summary, as it were, of Jesus’ teaching on mercy in the gospel of Matthew.