I have never really connected with the beatitudes. This is my major confession for the week. I’m not sure if it is an admission of sin, but certainly a reflection of my spiritual condition. The beatitudes are the name given to a section at the beginning of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. It is found in Matthew 5:3-12 and is a series of nine statements with the following formula:
Blessed are [a certain type of people] for they [something is true of them].
The word “beatitude” is not a title Jesus used but a later designation by commentators. It comes from the Latin beatus, which means blessed or happy. A similar set of beatitudes are found in Luke 6:20-23, but for now I am focusing on the passage in Matthew.
2 And he opened his mouth 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 shall be comforted.
5 "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ESV
See, my past problems with the beatitudes have been multiple. First, I thought they sounded like an if/then proposition. If you do this, then God will do that. Very formulaic. If you come through for God, then he will come through for you. The problem is that I often do not come through for God. I know my failings do not shape the truth of scripture. All I am saying is, where does that leave me? I would say not in His kingdom. This is contrary to the God I see in scripture who embraces me, not because of who I am but because of who He is – not because of what I have done but because of what He has done.
Second, some of the descriptions seem nearly impossible. Meek, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers? Seriously? Is this what it takes to enter the kingdom of heaven? Is the bar that high? If we are at all honest with ourselves, we admit that we are not there. Oh, we might have our good days. I was pure in heart yesterday morning … from about 8:00 to 9:00 … OK, from 8:00 to 8:05. I was possibly meek for a few minutes later in the day. Let’s not even talk about merciful.
Third, they are not all actions. They are inward characteristics. If these are things I can do to be OK with God, then give me things to do. Should I make myself mourn? Should I work to bring about persecution? It’s all a bit nebulous. Just show me the list and I will do it.
Recently, God has grabbed my attention with the beatitudes and they are not at all what I thought they were. I have come to the realization that they are a description of someone who dwells in the kingdom of heaven. Right now. Right here. Someone who knows God and walks with him. This list is not something we do or even try to be. It is what we naturally become. Spending time with Him changes us. Over time we find ourselves living differently, living kingdom lives. Because God blesses us with his presence, we become a blessing to those around us. We begin to reflect the heart of God. Maybe you already knew this. Who knows? Maybe I wrote a paper in seminary saying this, but I’m finally getting it. I’m looking at the beatitudes in a whole new way and it’s pretty exciting.