Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I don’t think there is anything as quintessentially Christian as are the beatitudes which being defined is the condition or statement of blessedness. Jesus gave his famous Sermon on the Mount and we find it opening with what we refer to as these beatitudes. Blessed are poor in spirit, it begins, for theirs is the kingdom of God. As with all of the teachings of the Savior, this poetic passage has deep meaning and broad applications. That is the joy of reading words of wisdom. Although there may only be one intended meaning, there are no limits to how we apply the teaching.
Jesus delivered his sermon ‘When he went up into a mountain’ and as Catherine Thomas, a professor of ancient history and scripture, points out, the allusion to Mount Sinai where Jehovah delivered the great Law of Moses is unmistakable. (The Sermon on the Mount: The Sacrifice of the Human Heart, Catherine Thomas in Studies in Scriptures , Deseret Books). Here Jesus is again on a mount, but this time proclaiming to his disciples the new law. In so doing, he presents Isaiah 61:1-2 in a new context. Again, the link between Isaiah and the beatitudes is unmistakable:
Isaiah 61:1-2 The spirit of the Lord god is upon me; because the lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek, he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord , and the day of vengeance of our god, to comfort all that mourn;.
To begin this analyses of the beatitudes, let’s take a look at each of the words from the beatitudes in isolation
Blessed – from the greek makarios. ‘privileged to receive divine favor’ or perhaps more colloquial ‘oh, the happiness of’.
Poor in Spirit – one synonym is humble. It does not mean depressed or down trodden. Poor in spirit, like broken hearted, is the opposite of proud but not the opposite of confident.
Meek –often defined as humble, but it is so much more. Meek more refers to being in control. Moses was described as being the most meek (Numbers 12:3)above all men but when you consider his boldness before the oppressed, he was hardly a pushover. People who keep cool under pressure are meek.
Mourn – to mourn is to feel great sorrow. We mourn when we have regret, but we also mourn for others. Mourning in this sense is similar to empathy. Sympathy is when we acknowledge someone’s misfortune; empathy is when we understand and grieve with them.
Peacemakers – this is an action word. It does not mean pacifist. Jesus was not a pacifist, unless you consider tossing tables in a temple to be equivalent to non-engagement. A peacemaker strives to make peace even when at war. A peacemaker stands between the abuser and the victim, a peacemaker finds solutions to conflicts before they escalate. A peacemaker recognizes that sometimes forceful intervention is necessary. We refer to police officers as peace officers. They often have to forcefully intervene to stop a criminal from violating another person’s safety.
Hunger and Thirst after righteousness – Everyone knows what it is like to hunger and thirst. When your stomach is empty or you are severely dehydrated, all that you can think of is to fill your stomach and quench your thirst. You are driven by impulse as much as by conscious decision to find food and water. When we hunger and thirst after righteousness, wickedness is not an option.All we seek is to do good.
Persecuted.Do what is right, let the consequence follow. Those who do not bend to peer pressure. Often this verse conjures up the brutal persecution of the early Christians but brutality is not dished out based on how good someone is, it is pure indiscriminate evil. The type of persecution here is the everyday struggle of doing what is right when the results may not be very favourable for ourselves: Owning up to mistakes, sticking up for the innocent, holding to your values, refusing to follow questionable direction from an employer.
A Pattern for Righteousness
In isolation, each pearl of wisdom of the beatitudes stands on its own as very sound advice, but there is a progressive pattern to the poem. One qualifier tends to lead into the next one. It is a pattern of righteousness, a latter to spiritual success. You cannot go up a step until you have mastered the one before.
- The first step in personal redemption is humility, recognizing that you may be wrong, that you are nothing of yourself, that others matter. It is not possible to change until you are willing to accept correction. This is simple common sense of course, but simple does not equal easy.
- From humility comes true remorse for your own action, the type of regret that brings change in yourself, and empowers you to want to help others be better people, and opens your eyes to their struggles. The burdens of others become your own burdens and you develop empathy.
- Once you have curbed your own pride and practice empathy, you can begin to be meek. Those who are in control do not lash out because they do not jump to the conclusion that the person on the other side of the table is wrong. A meek person seeks first to understand before seeking to be understood. When the plane is about to crash they do not think of their own safety, they calmly and assertively seek to save the lives of all around them.
- At this stage, you begin to put off the natural man and seek to do good always. You begin to hunger and thirst after righteousness. Have you ever wondered why you keep making the same mistakes over and over again? The reality is, we sin because we enjoy it. Bad choices provide immediate gratification. The gym is always full on New Year’s Day. Professional artists and athletes often comment when asked how they became successful, they say they had a hunger, an insatiable drive to succeed no matter what got in their way. They did not let naysayers get them down, and when a seemingly impossible obstacle was put in their play they did not stop until the impossible became the possible. Getting to this stage of utter goodness is not easy. It takes discipline and practice. It requires perhaps years of controlling the natural impulses of greed, selfishness, pride and all other ills that beset us.
- Charity is the pinnacle of Christ like living. It is the greatest gift spoken of by Paul. When you are in the service of your fellow being, you are only in the service of your god. It is through these pure acts of charity that we purify the inner vessel, that we cleanse ourselves of all unrighteousness. It is how be become pure in heart. Showing mercy is an action word, it is much more than empathy. We show mercy by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, defending the helpless.
- The next step in your spiritual progression is to become a peacemaker. The true peacemaker has acquired the discipline of humility, self control, and empathy. They are able to see all sides of the argument and do not take sides for personal gain.
- Finally, we have arrived. This final counsel is to endure to the end. Keep on keeping on. If you do what is right, God will have you in the end; time will tell who the conqueror may be. This final piece of sage advice reminds me of the parable of the seed that falls on stony ground. Despite what opposition gets in your way, stay true to your values. Opposition is as the refiners fire.
A Poetic Structure
There is also, in my personal opinion, a chiasmic structure to the beatitudes. In Hebrew poetry, the message of the poem is in the middle. A simple example of a chiasm is the expression ‘beautifully simple and simply beautiful.
A) Poor in Spirit (present tense)
B) Meek (Future Tense)
D) Hunger and Thirst After Righteousness
C) Pure in Heart
B) Peacemaker (Future Tense)
A) Persecuted (present tense)
The poor in spirit are persecuted, and persecution brings people to humility. Peacemakers are, by their very nature, meek. A characteristic of being pure in heart is mourning or having empathy for others. The focal point is that all these characteristics lead us to hunger and thirst after righteousness and, by so doing, we are merciful. Consider the accompanying blessing:
A) Kingdom of heaven
C) Inherit the earth
C) See god
B) Children of God
A) Kingdom of heaven
The opening and closing promise is patently obvious. If we take it as a chiasmic coupling, we learn that the children of God are the ones who are comforted. Inheriting the earth means seeing God, so this suggests that the earth will be where God presides in the eternity and we with him. The focal point of the message is that we will be filled with mercy. The message of the beatitudes in this light is if we always seek to do what is right then we will be filled with mercy. Or to put it another way, Gods grace is sufficient for us. (2 Cor 12:9)
A List of Debits and Credits
A final interpretation of the beatitudes to consider is that the first list identifies spiritual deficits which lead us to seek the spirit, and then we experience surplus that righteousness brings. And with this, we are empowered to endure trials, and to love our enemies. In this sense, rather than being an asset, the characteristics of being poor in spirit, meek, mourning, and hungering and thirsting after righteousness are flaws or weaknesses, and we must replace them with being merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted for our service.
Next week I will share my thought on beatitudes found in other books in the bible including The Book of Revelation and Luke.