Read Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 6:20-23
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the one who is firstborn from among the dead so that he might occupy the first place in everything.” (Colossians 1:18 CEB)
We’ve all heard them, even those who are not “religious” or have never opened a Bible are familiar with them, and most people hold them up as the pinnacle of Jesus’ teachings. But the question remains, how many people truly understand what Jesus is teaching in the Beatitudes? In order to shed light on them, I have decided to write a series on the beatitudes, which will precede an even larger series on Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” as a whole.
When we think of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” we often think first of “the Beatitudes”, which are a collection of blessings proclaimed on specific groupings of people. While they sound like pleasant and idealistic platitudes given by a lofty and well-intentioned teacher, we often pass them off as being “the mark of perfection” and/or wholly unattainable. In other words, we either dismiss ourselves from centering our lives on them because we are not “the Christ” and, therefore, will fall short of them, and/or we think of them to be unrealistic and/or unattainable in this broken and fallen world.
Yet, both of the above fall into a general misunderstandings of what Jesus is doing in them. The word beatitude comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of Matthew 5:1-11, where Jesus proclaims “Beati”, which means “happy,” and is from the root Latin word of “beātitūdō,” meaning happiness. Yet, the Latin does not quite capture what Jesus is doing in this set of proclamations. In Greek, the language in which the Gospel According to Matthew was written, the word Jesus uses is, “makarios” (μακάριος) meaning, supremely or divinely “blessed” and, by extension, privileged, fortunate and/or well-off. This better fits what Jesus is doing as he is proclaiming an objective reality that is a result of an act of God (being blessed), and not about a subjective feeling (being happy).
Drawing on a tradition that is found both in ancient Jewish and ancient pagan writings, Jesus uses these beatitudes to teach people the heart of God as well as the center of God’s coming Kingdom. The beatitudes are not objective truths that are a reality in this present world order; rather, they seem to go against what we humans commonly value and they seem to go against our common human experience.
Surely, the poor are not blessed. Surely the meek do not inherit the earth. Surely, the hungry are not blessed, nor are those who being persecuted for any reason. How can Jesus claim these things, which are so clearly and evidently NOT true, and still maintain credibility? How can we follow a Jesus who seems so clearly aloof and disconnected with reality?
What’s important to note here is that the beatitudes are not true in and of themselves, nor is Jesus proclaiming them to be. To read them that way is to, ultimately, miss what Jesus is doing here. He is not declaring these things to be present realities within the world order; rather, Jesus is declaring them to be realities in the divine order. In other words, by virtue of Jesus’ authority as the as the Son of God and Lord of the Church, these nine “blessings” are true and to be held as such by all who submit to Jesus’ authority.
As we prepare to study the Beatitudes, prepare yourself by reading them carefully, more than once, and by opening yourself to what Jesus is proclaiming. Ask yourself, why is Jesus proclaiming these groupings of people to be divinely blessed? Why are they the ones who are privileged, fortunate, and well-off and what does Jesus’ proclamation say about our current world order and those who, by the world’s measure, are privileged, fortunate and/or well-off? Finally, ask yourself this: do you accept the authority of Jesus as Lord and, by extension, do you embrace Jesus’ proclamation on the basis of his authority? I pray that, as we move forward, the wisdom of the Beatitudes will ever transform you.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“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.” – Ronnie McBrayer
Lord, prepare my heart and open it up to your wisdom and the authority of your Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Amen.