When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he began to speak and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“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. (New Revised Standard Version)
God’s Law (The Ten Commandments) was given on a mountain. That Law was restated and reframed on a mountain by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount.
I believe that arguably one of the most important and impactful portions of Holy Scripture are the Beatitudes of Jesus, which serve as the foundation to all of Christ’s teaching.
Christ’s Beatitudes are not simply a random collection of pithy phrases from Jesus on what constitutes approval and blessing from God. They intentionally build upon each other and describe the nature of true righteousness.
The Poor in Spirit
Spiritual poverty, not wealth, is the spiritual base to the Christian life. Most of the original crowd listening to Jesus thought they were on the outside of the kingdom, on the margins of true religion. But Jesus told them they have a place in God’s reign as poor and pitiable people.
To be “poor in spirit” is to be a spiritual beggar who recognizes they have nothing to offer God. It is seeing oneself, one’s sin, and one’s life as spiritually bankrupt apart from God.
Beggars have neither the leverage nor the ability to strike deals with anybody; and so, they do one thing: beg continually.
The proud person would never be caught begging for anything. Yet, the humble spiritual beggar constantly prays because they need God. They discern that without God there is no hope. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the penitent and not to the proud.
Mourning is the emotional response of acknowledging one’s spiritual poverty.
Grief and lament have a central place in Christian theology and life. To avoid it, work around it, or short-circuit its process is to refuse Christ; there is no righteousness apart from mourning over sin. Crying, weeping, and even intense tears are important and necessary.
To experience personal grief over one’s sins and the sins of the church and the world is a Beatitude of Jesus. You neither need position, power, privilege, nor pedigree to be a mourner. All can mourn. This is the door by which we enter the kingdom of God.
A meek and gentle spirit is the result of realizing poverty of spirit and practicing lament.
At the heart of what it means to be meek is a spirit of non-retaliation. Whenever we are flat on our backs before God, there is no place to look but up. Thus, there is no ability to look down on others.
To be meek is to be broken and moldable before God. A meek person takes personal responsibility for their attitudes and actions. The meek have no need to retaliate, even when egregiously wronged, because they fully entrust themselves to God alone who judges the living and the dead.
Ironically, brokenness is the path to righteous wholeness.
The Hungry and Thirsty
Only those who know their poverty of spirit, personally grieve over sin, and are gentle, end up longing for righteousness.
The desire for righteousness is a recognition that without God I will not make it. I cannot be righteous without Jesus. Simply put, righteousness is a right relationship with God and others.
Those who hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness know they cannot make things right by themselves; they need God’s help.
If we think we can live most days of our lives without God, we do not yet know true righteousness. People who understand their great need for Jesus are easy to spot. They crave and devour God’s Word as their daily food; and they cannot stop blabbering on about Jesus.
There are three practices of living that arise from being filled with God’s righteousness: mercy, purity, and peacemaking. These Beatitudes cannot be conjured up by our own will; instead, they organically grow within us and are freely expressed because of what God is doing in our lives.
You cannot force them any more than you can force a stalk of corn to grow on your terms. Rather, you work with the unforced rhythms of God’s grace and allow righteousness to take root in you.
Down below in the soil, spiritual poverty, mourning, and humility germinate. Then, when the plant breaks the soil and flowers, it produces mercy, purity, and peace-making.
Mercy begins with a heart that seeks to be generous; it is a loving response to someone or a group of people in misery. We accept them and help them because we ourselves have been there.
The merciful person looks for ways to come alongside others and help, rather than pile expectations and burdens on others without mentoring them in the ways of God.
The Pure In Heart
Purity also results from true righteousness. A stalk of corn might look good, but if you shuck it and it’s filled with worms, it’s not worth much. Legalistic righteousness is concerned to look good; it’s obsessed with performance, perfection, and possessions.
Conversely, the righteousness of God fills our hungry hearts and makes us pure and holy, set apart for good use.
Those who make peace intentionally put themselves in the middle of trouble because they want to live righteously with the mercy and purity that God has provided for them.
Peace is realized through peacemakers. It seems we all desire peace, and yet, peacemakers are hard to come by. It’s a tough gig. To achieve peace, one must first be at peace with God and self – which is why we need the cross of Jesus Christ.
Living righteously, as presented by Jesus, tends to bring persecution; and the persecuted consider it a small price to pay for realizing God’s justice in the world.
Folks who are offended by even slight criticisms are usually the ones who are privileged and in power. They have not yet learned the ways of Jesus. Pettiness is nothing more than a sign of unrighteousness.
Yoking up with Jesus, following him, and living into his words and ways has always been risky and dangerous. The Beatitudes of Jesus are not characteristics that lead to power, prestige, or possessions, but likely just the opposite.
“The Beatitudes, spoken with the community of Jesus’ disciples in view, are paradoxes – the standards of the world are turned upside down as soon as things are seen in their right perspective, which is to say, in terms of God’s values, so different from those of the world. It is precisely those who are poor in worldly terms, those thought of as lost souls, who are truly fortunate ones, the blessed, who have every reason to rejoice and exult in their suffering. The Beatitudes are promises resplendent with the new image of the world and humanity inaugurated by Jesus.”Pope Benedict XVI
Truly righteous persons become living Beatitudes; they are walking, talking blessings to the world. They abide with Christ and are witnesses to a subversive, yet wonderful, way of life, where the last are first and the greatest are the least.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace.