Eight Beatitudes are found in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5:3-12 at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and summarized into five in the Gospel of Luke 6:20b-23, in what has become known as the Sermon on the Plain. These sermons tell his followers what it means to follow Him.
Markarios, the Greek word, that in English becomes beatitude, means the same as being especially praised by God if one demonstrates these qualities in his daily life. According to Jonathan Pennington’s new theological commentary on Matthew 5–7 and in the words of Dr. Wesley Hill, they are “declared observation[s] about a way of being in the world.” They express a kind of wisdom similar to Proverbs that a parent might say to an upset child who is having a tough time at school or losing an important sports game. Chill out. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you win. It’s the way you play the game that counts.
When bad situations occur in our lives, we think we deserve better, especially if we’re Christians. Aren’t we entitled to wealth, prosperity, and to be admired? But that’s not God’s way, as Jesus teaches in the Beatitudes and illustrates through His parables and healings.
Some of these follows:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”
When Matthew writes “poor in spirit,” Luke writes just “poor” in the first beatitude. The Hebrew word for “poor” in Matthew and Isaiah, anawim, are the same. In both cases, Jesus really meant the poor, the hungry, the destitute. He reminds members of the synagogue congregation of this when he reads from the prophet Isaiah. (61) Those who heard could identify their present time remembering when their ancestors were in exile in Babylon, having been driven like cattle by the Babylonian Army away from their homeland into captivity. Now, they were once again captives, of Rome, this time in their own land, their hopes not yet realized.
The Greek word “poor” in the Gospel of Luke literally means without resources or desperate, like Jonah when he found himself in the belly of the big fish and cried out to God for help. Those who lose all their earthly possessions in a flood, a fire, or an earthquake and have no insurance or other resources to cover their losses understand this meaning; so do those who become addicted to a drug or a behavior that pulls them down. They experience blessedness when they are willing to reach out for help by calling a hotline phone number or attend a recovery meeting.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
The word “meek,” the same Hebrew word, anawim, used in the third beatitude (Matthew) can also mean humble, gentle, or even powerless. The same meaning appears in Psalm 37. Make the most of it, the psalmist writes, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their evil ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes [sic].” (7 NIV ) This psalm reflects that in spite of what the world says or does, followers of Jesus need to continue to serve those in desperate need, such as rebuilding and restoring after a hurricane disaster, accepting refugees who are fleeing from persecution and threats, seeking asylum in America, or others fleeing radical groups . . . We may have to put up with misfortune, trials, and tribulations, but we know who we are made in God’s image. We rest assured that God is with us and will never forsake us.
One of my spiritual directors encouraged me to go on a silent retreat with the task of meditating on the word “humble” or “meek.” God taught me during that retreat humility does not mean humiliation, but finding and claiming my actual self, as distinguished from my damaged self, or trying to fulfill the expectation of others. Humility means trusting that God has made each of us unique and special as His child [sic].
Thomas ὰ Kempis writes: It is the humble man whom God protects and liberates; it is the humble whom He loves and consoles. To the humble He turns and upon them he bestows grace, that after their humiliation He may raise them up to glory. He reveals his secrets to the humble and with kind invitation bids them come to Him. Thus the humble man enjoys peace in the midst of many vexations, because his trust is in God, not in the world’s [sic].
The humble man or woman receives God’s special honor and a proclamation from the heavenly throne, “Well done good and faithful servant.” (Mathew 25:21 RSV)
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Jesus’ Jewish followers were in a state of mourning. When Joseph returned from Egypt after Herod’s death, there must have been mourning and lamentation. As previously noted, just before his death, Herod had ordered all children under the age of two in Bethlehem and environs to be slaughtered.
When he taught this second beatitude to those gathered around him on the mountain or the plain, Jesus recalled the book of Lamentations, when his listeners mourned their time of exile in Babylon and mourned now for dead children under Rome’s subjugation.
We mourn and grieve over life today, wanting it the way it used to be, especially during the current pandemic. Perhaps you’ve been laid off from a job because of the coronavirus. Perhaps one of your children has died of an opiate overdose. Perhaps you’re feeling mistreated, misunderstood, and you resent that the world seems to be passing you by. At some time in our lives, we will experience deep sorrow and loss. Along with our feelings of loss, we’ll be angry.
Many of Jesus’ followers were angry. They had been anticipating the culmination of what God had promised, that once again the land would be theirs. But now they were subjects of the Roman Empire. They were angry at the loss of friends or family members, many killed by Herod or crucified by Roman soldiers because of their revolt.
Revolution seethed in Jewish bones and sinew. NT Wright, in his book, Simply Jesus, calls that particular period of history, “the perfect storm” (I:3), when the lordship of Caesar clashed with the Jews who were anticipating the lordship of the Messiah. God’s creation was on the verge of destruction and called for extraordinary measures. God decided to reenter his creation, to be born as a human, to live, teach, and transform his people into the true royal way, with the Beatitudes as their guide.
When the Magi, Zoroastrian priest/astronomers, came to Jerusalem to find the new king of the Jews predicted by their study of the stars, they first went to check in with King Herod before searching for the new royal arrival. Herod, concerned about a rival to his position, asked the scribes where the new king had been predicted to be born and they told him Bethlehem. Herod then shrewdly asked the Magi to return to tell him after they located the birthplace. Instead, after warning Joseph, the Magi returned back to their home countries another way. And the time of mourning began for those who lived in and around Bethlehem.
Jesus still mourns with us today. His presence and face appeared to me one night about twenty years ago. I had been attending and presenting at a pastoral care conference in Washington, DC when my sister died. We had been estranged; she had refused to speak to me for about ten years. A member of her family called to tell me not to attend her funeral; in fact, the local police had been told to arrest me if I showed up. Devastated and in a state of profound mourning, Jesus’ face appeared for a brief second, comforting me.
Jesus weeps with us when we mourn. He wept when his friend Lazarus died. He mourned when he entered Jerusalem with foreknowledge of the destruction of the temple, yet once again. He mourned because he foresaw the dangers his disciples would face in a hostile world: wars, famines, and persecutions.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”
Righteousness comes from the Greek word dikaiosune. The word also means justice and the state of being justified. Righteousness is the opposite of covetousness, as the tenth commandment prohibits. Jesus calls his followers to be hungry for justice, recognizing that the Jews longed for a leader who would bring back justice and fairness or, for us today, we long for a president who cares about righteousness. As the psalmist states, “He (God) will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun [sic].” (37:6)
But that’s not fair! How come he gets away with it? Many of us have experienced this child’s sense of unfairness when one thinks she’s being punished and another sibling is not. All those who experience injustice or unfairness desire justice and cry out similarly, that’s not fair!
Black and brown Americans often do not find justice in American courts because they may not have the financial resources to hire attorneys for their defense, especially when they have been falsely accused. Those suffering from mental illnesses or addiction are far too often put out of sight and out of mind.
Jim Forrest writes about an Orthodox nun, Mother Maria Skobtsova, who was born into an aristocratic family in Riga, Latvia. After fleeing from Bolshevik persecution to France, she dedicated her life to providing care, assistance, and protection to Russian refugees in the 1930s and then for Jews in 1942, smuggling Jewish children out of France in garbage bins. Arrested in 1943, she was sent to Ravensbruck where she chose to take the place of another prisoner sentenced to be shot. She writes: “There is one moment when you start burning with love and you have the inner desire to throw yourself at the feet of some other human being. This one moment is enough. Immediately you know that instead of losing your life, it is being given back to you twofold.”
Many psalms describe the Lord approving the godly or righteous and hating the wicked and those who do violence. (Example: 11:5) In many proverbs, memories of the righteous are blessed but the names of the wicked will rot. (Example: 10:7)
Jesus probably memorized many of the psalms and proverbs, so when he taught the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount or the Plain, he was just rephrasing them, illustrating them through his parables.
Our attitude should not be just craving justice but advocating for it. Our cries go up to the Father as an intercessor so that God will bring justice to pass in his time [sic].
This excerpt is taken from Terry’s book Following Jesus in the Age of Trump.