The Beatitudes; Attitudes to Guide Our Behaviour
I hesitate. After all, aren’t these words better suited for a picturesque wall hanging? Blessed are the poor in spirit, “Blessed are those who mourn, “Blessed are the meek, “Blessed are the merciful. “Blessed are the pure in heart. “Blessed are the peacemakers,
Can you imagine a trip to Russell Books and finding in the Newly Released Section. 7 Steps toward finding your inner poverty of spirit. Fast Track Your Mourning over a long weekend. 12 Guidelines to Guarantee Pure in Heart Does Not Become Poor and Hurt and the new bestseller, Explosive New Methods of Creating Peace with a Bang.
Face it, our culture favors those who look out for themselves. The poor in spirit are most likely to get trampled in a “dog-eat-dog world” and woe to the peacemakers for the human appetite for retribution seems much more compelling.
Consider, we live in a Diagnose and Treat kind of world. Have a symptom, just Google your way back to health. Need a question answered while cooking? Just ask your resident ‘talk-back app that knows weather, pulls up the best recipe and can even play a David Foster piano tune while you cook. Yet the beatitudes are not predictive – Do this and you will get this. Rather they are meant as a descriptor of a different way of living and thinking.
The Beatitudes refer to a state of happiness or better yet, state of being blessed.
“The Beatitudes are no spiritual “to do list” to be attempted by eager, rule-keeping disciples. It is a spiritual “done” list of the qualities God brings to bear in the people who follow Jesus.”
The Beatitudes. Impossible challenges for ordinary living? Happy are the poor in Spirit. Sure dial me up a dose of that. Happy are those who mourn. We are certainly doing our share of that lately. For generations the church has tried to force from these some kind of unrealistic formula of the way the world, or at least or response to it, should be. But the proverbs existed long before Jesus and provided wisdom for life. Blessed are those who save wisely, for they will prosper. Blessed are those who lock their doors at night, for they won’t get robbed. Jesus Beatitudes hardly describe the way the world really works. Blessed are the merciful, who keep forgiving their enemies so their enemies can trounce all over them again. Blessed are the poor in heart who empty their bank account to keep the crooks in business. Blessed are those who mourn but all the while thinking of switching dials to someone who can deliver health, wealth and power.
In his commentary Matthew for Everyone, Anglican Bishop Research Professor, N.T Wright, a New Testament professor at St Mary's College in the University of St Andrews in Scotland, and senior research fellow at Oxford University clarifies that the Beatitudes are good news, not good advice. Jesus came not to guarantee our happiness, but to guarantee that even during life’s basic low points, peace within ourselves and peace with others is not only possible but guaranteed.
IF WE DIDN’T already know but were asked to guess the kind of people Jesus would pick out for special commendation, we might be tempted to guess one sort or another of spiritual hero—men and women of impeccable credentials morally, spiritually, humanly, and every which way. If so, we would be wrong. Maybe those aren’t the ones he picked out because he felt they didn’t need the shot in the arm his commendation would give them. Maybe they’re not the ones he picked out because he didn’t happen to know any. The ones he did pick out are not the spiritual giants but “the poor in spirit” as he called them, the ones who spiritually speaking have absolutely nothing to give and absolutely everything to receive like the Prodigal telling his father “I am not worthy to be called thy son”. Not the champions of faith who can rejoice even in the midst of suffering but the ones who mourn over their own suffering because they know that for the most part they’ve brought it down on themselves, or over the suffering of others because our internal cues lead us to be in the same room with those who do suffer. Not the strong ones but the meek ones, i.e., the ones not like Caspar Milquetoast but like Charlie Chaplin, who lets the world walk over him and yet, dapper and undaunted to the end, somehow makes the world more human in the process. Not the ones who are righteous but the ones who hope they will be someday and in the meantime are well aware that the distance they still have to go is even greater than the distance they’ve already come. Not the winners of great victories over the Evil in the world but the ones who, seeing it also in themselves every time they comb their hair in front of the bathroom mirror, are merciful when they find it in others and maybe that way win the greater victory. Not the totally pure but the “pure in heart,” to use Jesus’ phrase, the ones who may be as shop-worn and clay-footed as the next one but have somehow kept some inner freshness and innocence intact. Not the ones who have necessarily found peace in its fullness but the ones who, just for that reason, try to bring it about wherever and however they can—peace with their neighbors and God, peace with themselves. Jesus saved for last the ones who side with Heaven even when any fool can see it’s the losing side and all you get for your pains is pain. Looking into the faces of his listeners, he speaks to them directly for the first time. “Blessed are you,” he says. You can see them looking back at him. They’re not what you’d call a high-class crowd—peasants and fisherfolk for the most part, on the shabby side, not all that bright. It doesn’t look as if there’s a hero among them. They have their jaws set. Their brows are furrowed with concentration. They are blessed when they are worked over and cursed out on his account he tells them. It is not his hard times to come but theirs he is concerned with, speaking out of his own meekness and mercy, the purity of his own heart.
Jesus had a unique way of taking the obvious – hurt like crazy when you grieve, want revenge when attacked, expect health, wealth and happiness because it’s something we think we deserve, but Jesus flipped that on it’s head and called those who experienced such were instead of being cursed were instead blessed.
Henri Nouwen, Dutch Jesuit priest offers the perspective that “the Beatitudes invite us to hopefulness, to compassion allowing us to stand in the world with possibility that mercy, humility, and peace are what it means to live. Nouwen reminds us that we are all created from the same dust. In the midst of a world far from God’s chosen ideal, we need one another more than ever, to help us each recognize the image of God within each of us.
You may wonder why we used again, the verses from Micah, same as last week. Because they are best in describing that image within us. It is most sharply defined when we do things that bring justice, when we love kindness and walk closely with God. This is when you know the Beatitudes have taken root in your heart.
The beatitudes are actually translated wrong in most of our Bibles. The Greek does not read, “Blessed are…” but instead, “O the blessedness of…”
- O the blessedness of our utter dependence on God, for that dependence has ushered us into God’s heart.
- O the blessedness of our deep, deep sadness, for it is in that sadness that God has touched and filled and comforted us.
- O the blessedness of our finite earthiness, for it is in humility that we remember and know that we have found abundance.
- O the blessedness of our yearning for the good, for our hunger has been fed by God’s grace.
- O the blessedness of our generosity, for it is through our generosity that is the sweetness of God’s love.
- O the blessedness of whatever justice and harmony we have been able to create, for the peace we receive in return is the reflection of God’s face.
- O the blessedness of suffering and struggle, for our joy has been the fruit of adversity.
Rejoice and be glad in the reality of our living, for it is in that reality that God is building a kingdom of love within and around us.
Someone summed up the Beatitudes quite well, when she said, “Very simply the beatitudes mean, “You are loved. Go, therefore and act like it.”
May it be so – for you and me. Amen.