December 17, 2018

Breviary on the Beatitudes

Panama Apartment Block. Photo by Nicholas Jones

Matthew 5:1-12, Kingdom NT

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the hillside and sat down. His disciples came to him. He took a deep breath, and began his teaching:

“Blessings on the poor in spirit! The kingdom of heaven is yours.
“Blessings on the mourners! You’re going to be comforted.
“Blessings on the meek! You’re going to inherit the earth.
“Blessings on people who hunger and thirst for God’s justice! You’re going to be satisfied.

“Blessings on the merciful! You’ll receive mercy yourselves.
“Blessings on the pure in heart! You will see God.
“Blessings on the peacemakers! You’ll be called God’s children.
“Blessings on people who are persecuted because of God’s way! The kingdom of heaven belongs to you. “Blessings on you, when people slander you and persecute you, and say all kinds of wicked things about you falsely because of me! Celebrate and rejoice: there’s a great reward for you in heaven. That’s how they persecuted the prophets who went before you.”

Today, I was praying for a woman in the hospital who was unresponsive and near death, who had lived an extremely difficult life, and whose family had suffered and dealt with a multitude of problems over the years. In these circumstances, I often turn to the Beatitudes to voice my prayers. I hope it will become clear as you read this short overview of this well known text why I pray it in these settings.

I’m convinced, and have written here several times about my conviction, that the Beatitudes have been profoundly misunderstood and foisted upon people by well-meaning preachers and teachers as virtues or character qualities to be developed.

I don’t buy it in the least.

  • The Beatitudes are Jesus’ announcements of grace. He has come to bless, and the recipients of his blessings will be the most unexpected people.
  • The first four Beatitudes are Jesus’ announcements that he has come to bless the needy, whom the world ignores or considers “losers.”
  • The second four Beatitudes are Jesus’ announcements that he has come to bless those who serve God and the needy, whom the world ignores or considers idealistic, ineffective “fools.”

Who are the needy?

  • Those who are spiritually bankrupt.
  • Those who are overwhelmed by sorrow.
  • Those who have little or no power.
  • Those who suffer injustice and long for it to be made right.

Who are those who serve God and the needy?

  • Those who show mercy.
  • Those who care about the condition of their own hearts.
  • Those who work to make peace.
  • Those who elicit opposition because they serve God and others.

The Beatitudes are Jesus’ announcement that he has come to fulfill what Mary sang about in the Magnificat.

He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away with empty hands.

The Beatitudes are parallel to the “mission statement” — a “Jubilee” proclamation — that Jesus made when he preached in Nazareth.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
    and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

• • •

Photo by Nicholas Jones at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Comments

  1. Blessed are the arrogant
    For theirs is the kingdom of their own company

    Blessed are the superstars
    For the magnificence in their light
    We understand better our own insignificance

    Blessed are the filthy rich
    For you can only truly own what you give away
    Like your pain

    Blessed are the bullies
    For one day they will have to stand up to themselves

    Blessed are the liars
    For the truth can be awkward

  2. Ronald Avra says:

    I can definitely see how viewing the Beatitudes in this manner would be an aid in ministry. Exhibiting them as targets to be hit rather than God’s promises of faithful grace, would only be salt in the wounds of the hurting, added pain without any healing effect.

  3. Chaplin Mike, great message and good thoughts. Words and thoughts from a trusted source can be a healing blessing to those who need comfort, God not only provides the message but the messengers who give context and guidance to those who ponder the same questions we all have.

  4. Blessings on those who in need, who cannot change their own situation.

    Blessings on the social justice warriors, who do their utmost to help them.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      That assumes the Social Justice Warriors are in it for something other than righteous ego-boo and virtue signaling.

      You obviously do not live on the Left Coast.

      • I’m tired of social justice activists getting a bad rap. Just because not all such people are in it for something other than self-righteous ego-boost and virtue signaling doesn’t mean that none are. Not all are extremists, although the right wing and right wingnut media would have us believe they are. The kids from Parkland marching on WA today are not extremists, but they are activists. And if anybody even suggest that the students are “crisis actors”, I will take that as a sure sign that we are hearing from a Russian troll, or someone totally in thrall to the misinformation being disseminated in huge amounts by them.

      • Virtue signaling? You could accuse anyone of that who has ever expressed any ideals whatsoever in any context. Including the Author of the Beatitudes. Here in DC hypocrisy is not the problem. Here the problem is blatant unselfconscious stupidity.

  5. Steve Newell says:

    When I read either Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew) or Sermon on the Plain (Luke), I constantly reminded that American Christianity is so far from Christ’s teachings.

    Many in the American Christian Church, admires that woes that Jesus stated after the Beatitudes and many view the various “Blessed are … ” as those who are not living their best lives now. We love the “successful” and those whom “pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps”.

    I read that we are to bless those who curse us and to pray for and love those who mean us harm but we don’t do that.

    The Sermon on the Mount show us why it’s really hard to be a follower of Christ without the power of the Holy Spirit. Then all we can say is “Lord have mercy”.

  6. I read this as a personal context that Chaplin Mike shared with those with lost and those in need of comfort. I did not take it as a social justice or indictment of American Christianity ? or any other type of Christianity.
    Poor in spirit means humble, not superior, not boastful but meekly surrendering to Jesus on faith. When we get into the American Christian Church thing we get into the context of politics and cultures issues that I do not think CM was addressing in this message. We can get into a long and perhaps valuable discussion on the issues as many here have valid points they present. The financially “poor” and economically disadvantaged in the country founded n Christian beliefs would be lower middle class on up in most countries. The picture above the article is from Panama not Los Angles .
    My point is again context. I took this as a personal message I absorbed and stored in my memory file to help of course myself aka numero uno but to try to comfort others if I could with the mission accomplished message presented.
    Again I enjoy the dialogue and the different points of view, Headless U Guy comments hit me as I have seen and read several articles today about the decline of S.F. due to policies handed down by the social elites that run S.F. America is historically built on many good foundations by social justice warriors. All good points as usual but would I get into these points to comfort or dialogue with someone in need?
    However I like the personal tone of this message. Jesus came , whatever we are , he has won our battle, mission accomplished. The faith of the mustard seed not an ostrich egg is all you humbly need. To me the beatitudes are a personal message as alluded to by CM. Again, it is not would Jesus do, but what Jesus did, mission accomplished.
    And it is possible but highly unlikely , that I numero uno missed the context of CM message and the picture is of Panama Beach Fl. the redneck riveria .

    • There are neighborhoods in the USA that could rival the poverty in that photo from Panama, both in cities and in rural places like Appalachia.

  7. Thank you for this! This definitely helps explain the Beatitudes because I’ve never quite understood them.