The beatitudes are a slap in the face for anyone who tries to take them seriously. How can any of the things that Jesus mentions be “blessings?”
Normally, when I think of blessings I think of good things. I feel “blessed” when I look at my life and see that I have a family, a job, a house, two cars. I feel blessed that I can afford to feed and clothe my family. I feel blessed to have lots of stuff. Stuff in my garage. Stuff in my attic. Stuff crammed in closets.
But then I read the beatitudes and I realize that the way Jesus talks about the Christian life makes it seem as if it’s more about what a I lose in this world rather than what I gain. In fact, if you really want to mess with your mind read the beatitudes slowly, taking time to reflect on each phrase, and then ask yourself at the end, “HOW BLESSED AM I RIGHT NOW?”
What does it mean to be poor in spirit?
In a contemporary culture that embraces the idea that blessing is to be found in being proud of who you are and the choices you’ve made, it comes as quite a shock to hear Jesus say, “blessed are the poor in spirit.” His words are a rebuke on human pride. Sinful pride leads me to believe that because I feel a certain way or desire a certain thing, then by default I deserve it. Pride blinds me to the fact that a lot of the most pernicious sins in my life dwell in my desires, dreams and motives. Jesus will later say that it’s only when I learn to “lose my life” that I gain it. It’s only when I am willing to let go of having things “my way” that I then can begin to see Christ as the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45-46) and give up everything to have Him.
What does Jesus mean when He says, “Blessed are those who are meek?”
On the surface, meekness doesn’t seem like a good quality. No one would describe themselves as meek on a resume. We hear the word meekness and think weakness, and, for sure, there is no end of people in the world who suffer and are taken advantage of. But, on the other hand, this beatitude does not omit those who are strong or hold power and positions of authority—think of a strong, burley man gently hugging his wife or a father gently holding his baby girl. In these examples, meekness is the strength to bear with another person despite their weakness.
What does Jesus mean when he says, “Blessed are the peacemakers?”
This doesn’t sound as strange as the others. We can get on board with the idea of peace. We certainly need a little more peace in our world, but I don’t think what Jesus is saying is limited to the conflicts we see around us. Yes, we should try to bring peace when we see others engaged in conflict, but, even more so, I think He’s telling us to look at ourselves, at our actions toward others, and take notice of conflicts we are causing. Bring those conflicts to an end! In our marriage, with our children, at work, in church—how can you hope to serve Jesus when you can’t keep peace with the people Jesus has surrounded you with?
Perhaps what makes the Beatitudes so hard to understand is that they are not laws. They aren’t steps or tips. No matter how hard we try we can’t really make ourselves “poor in spirit” or “meek,” and even our best efforts at peacemaking and showing mercy to others are usually incomplete, spotty and fraught with sinful selfish ambition. More damning still, is that deep down inside we know our hunger for material things far surpasses any hunger we might have for righteousness, and we certainly have no desire to mourn anything, because that means first losing something we want or desire.
Given the strange and backward nature of the beatitudes, we may wonder if there is any hope for us. But the unique thing about Christ’s beatitudes is that Jesus gives precisely what He demands. He doesn’t say to self-centered people like us – “Get your act together and show me some worthiness before you come asking for blessings.” All these virtues the Lord describes, He Himself possesses in infinite degree, and it is the merciful Jesus whose blood covers our sins and presents us before our Maker as blessed. “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Psalm 32:1).
You see, I teach my confirmation kiddos every chance I get, that the key to reading any portion of the bible is reading it in light of Jesus and His death and resurrection. We must do that here, too! For, indeed, all the times that we struggle to show mercy, be humble, make peace, etc., we can find comfort in knowing that the Sermon on the Mount cannot be understood apart from the crucifixion on the mount. We remember that at the end of His ministry Jesus will go up another mountain, NOT to preach, but to practice what He preached–to suffer the curse so we can be blessed, to lose His life so that we might find life in Him. On Mt. Calvary the Sermon on the Mount is fulfilled for us in Christ.
Good fortune and ill-fortune happen every day in our lives. We have a choice: to focus on the negative and become an unhappy grumbler or to focus on something else. That something else is not your ordinary positive thinking. It is the secret that lies at the heart of contentment and true and lasting joy, a joy that does not reside in the pursuit of happiness, but in the pursuit of Christ.
In the light of this – Blessed are you!