February 2, 2020
Matthew 5.1-12 (see below)
Roman Catholic Bible scholars labeled the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as the “Beatitudes.” Beatitude means ultimate blessing or utmost bliss. This summary of blessedness is Matthew’s first recorded teaching of Jesus. That introduction makes sense, since a primary goal of Jesus was to point people toward finding blessings in God’s grace.
Each person is unique and complex. Jesus meant that all of us tend to have these different attributes at different times in our life! Blessed are you when you mourn…Blessed are you when you are a peacemaker. We can find most these qualities in ourselves and in other people--at one time or another. I met an extremely crabby lady who criticized everyone. Her husband had just been diagnosed with a terrible illness—and ordinarily the woman was quite charming. Blessed are those who mourn (the health of their spouse, in her case) for they shall be comforted.
Most of the Beatitudes do not seem to align with views reflected today in personal and public media, or even in the daily life of most Christians.As Jesus demonstrated time and again, we sometimes have to let life turn us upside down so we can learn how to live right side up.
The Beatitudes describe the scope of true discipleship. Jesus emphasizes that the result of discipleship is blessedness. The original Greek word for “Blessed” also translates as deep happiness or overarching joy or bliss. A faithful disciple experiences joy that pervades life—even in the midst of hardships.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” This first beatitude represents the core of Jesus’ entire message. Jesus used a specific word for “poor” that refers to people who are so destitute that begging is their only means of survival. It is hard for us to empathize with abject poverty. So, sometimes, comfortably well-off people experiment to experience homelessness for just a few days. They take only the clothes they are wearing and try to live on the street. At first, they are too embarrassed to beg. However, after hours of hunger, they find more humility and ask for handouts; and some even look in dumpsters for food. People living in abject poverty are totally dependent on other people.
Jesus says those who are desperately poor in spirit are blessed.
What does spiritual poverty mean to you?
Surely, Jesus wants spiritual superheroes rather than spiritual wimps. Yet, the spiritually poor are so spiritually destitute that they know they are utterly dependent on God. Like a street beggar or a baby who cannot provide for himself, the poor in spirit depend on God. Acknowledging our own inadequacy is the first step to connect to God’s abundant grace. Those who are humble can perceive that they are embraced and upheld by God.
Most likely, each of us has felt spiritual desperation at some point. However, people with substantial resources tend to think, “I can do it myself!” Jesus warned that it was more difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” [Matt 19:24] Anyone who appreciates creature comforts will find God’s
non-materialistic way of life difficult to implement. Poor in spirit is NOT a personal achievement, either. Rather, through God’s Holy Spirit, the poor in spirit can experience God’s grace. The classic joke rings true: Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves, because they shall never cease to be amused.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Whether you interpret ‘kingdom of heaven’ in some literal way or as a metaphor for blissful blessedness, the Beatitudes are for you. Jesus promises that the poor in spirit will be transformed.
“Poor is spirit” is foundational for mercy, peacemaking, and seeking righteousness and purity. If we know we need God’s mercy, we can empathize with others who need mercy or generosity. If we acknowledge our own weakness, even if only for a short time; then we can identify with others in their weakness. If we acknowledge our own neediness, then we have nothing to prove; and therefore have no reason to step on others to try to reach the top.
I know of a man who models a ‘poor in spirit’ attitude most of the time. He gets along with most everyone. He is unassuming so people do not feel threatened by him and he almost always makes people feel comfortable. He does not get offended—even when he has reason to be miffed. He does not think of himself as a model of the poor in spirit, He just knows that he is a beggar before God AND he trusts that he is a child of God. God loves him—even as he is.Since he feels so loved, he is ready to love people around him.
This humble gentleman is also generous in his estimation of other people. A lady in the church complained to him about a church member, saying, “That person is so weird.” The poor-in-spirit man responded: “She will fit in well with you and me. I’m grateful that the church welcomes weird people.” Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. No one wants to mourn. Yet, the Beatitudes are radically liberating because they identify mourning and as a source of blessing. We grieve many kinds of losses. We grieve loss of friends who move far away, loss of our own capabilities, losses due to conflict and non-forgiveness, loss of personal meaning or purpose, loss of excitement or adventure. We sometimes feel grief about the quality of our faithfulness. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted by God’s abiding love.
The meek are blessed. We totally depend on God to receive this gift. God inspires personal fulfillment by inspiring us through the Holy Spirit to do God’s will. Not as something to brag about, but as a gift. Meekness is quiet strength. Jesus demonstrated meekness when he would not defend himself when being judged by Pilate. Meek people are not contentious and do not fight or lash back on their own behalf. Meek people do not gripe, complain or whine. Do you want to say to cantankerous people, “Have a good day, if you can?” The meek find contentment in trust and reliance on God.
Those who are pure in heart or hunger and thirst for righteousness seek to do God’s will. Jesus says those who thirst for righteousness will be satisfied. We feel satisfied and content when our soul is as God would have us be. Hungering for righteousness means being drawn to do whatever lies within our power to see that the right prevails. If there is a hurt or wrongdoing within our view, we are called to bring whatever healing we can.
Blessed are the Merciful. Mercy requires compassion and empathy. Each of us has experienced the joy of offering and receiving merciful compassion or empathy. Mercy is a strength Jesus showed when he asked for forgiveness for his executioners and for those who reviled him.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Those who trust the Lord are free from a clawing need to feel better about themselves. Purity of heart results from a soul-filling love of God. Purity of heart dissipates desires to abuse or use power over others. Purity of heart dispels desires to say or do mean, hateful or ugly things. Retaliation and revenge are inconceivable to the pure in heart. This purity clarifies our vision of what life is truly meant to be. Thus, Jesus says, the pure in heart will see God. The pure in heart reflect the nature of God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, also, for they will be recognized as children of God. "Shalom" precipitates oneness with God. Peace reflects well being, reconciliation and deep contentment. War, violence, power abuse and conflict have no footing in true shalom. True peacemakers have deep spiritual roots. Steve Garnass-Holmes rephrases those who are persecuted to include all who feel belittled: Blessed are you whom other people scorn: I am right there with you.
When followers imitate Jesus, they often experience persecution. This persecution often meant torture or death. Emperor Julian, "The Apostate" reportedly said that he wanted to confiscate Christians' property so that they might all become poor and enter the kingdom of heaven." [Expositor’s Bible, v 8 p 132] If we pursue honesty, integrity and justice, we may encounter caustic remarks or a cold shoulder, but rarely do contemporary Christians experience persecution. Abuse of Christians is usually little more than shaming or embarrassment. Even so, Jesus promises: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. He is not talking about self-righteous pushers of religious religious doctrines.
I need to warn listeners to not over-interpret Jesus as meaning that righteous people will get to heaven but others will be condemned.
The Beatitudes are not “if – then” statements – if you are meek then you will inherit the earth…If you are pure, then you will see God. Jesus was not setting conditions. He was describing life when we live in the presence of God. May all of us come to understand that we, too, are blessed.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Steve Garnaas-Holmesre-phrases the Beatitudes like this: [in Unfolding Light, adapted see Matthew 5.3-10] Blessed are you who don’t have it:I give you my whole world. Blessed are you who are broken:I hold you close. Bless you who are gentle:my love in you will conquer the world. Blessed are you who yearn deeply for deeper faithfulness: it is available to you if you ask. Blessed are you who practice mercy: my mercy flows thru you. Blessed are you who love no matter what: you will always know my presence. Blessed are you who do not pass hurt on to others: beloved child, that’s when you are most like me. Blessed are you whom the world scorns: I am right there with you.