Having been baptized and thus anointed as Prophet, Priest, and King, Jesus now begins demonstrating that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand by His miracles. In Luke 6, He initiates a new phase of spreading the Kingdom He has come to establish: He begins to establish His Church.
I want you to notice how Jesus prepared for the great work that the Father had given Him: He spends all night in prayer in verse 12. Only after He has secluded Himself and prayed does He call His 12 apostles the next day, upon whom He will build His Church.
After calling the 12 apostles, Jesus begins to teach more directly about the Kingdom of Heaven, over which He rules. As a preacher, I like noticing the fact that Jesus may have spent all night in prayer not only asking for wisdom and strength to pick His disciples wisely but noticing also that He may have stayed up all night finishing His sermon – the Sermon on the Mount!
In His teaching, Jesus is, if you will, laying down the laws of His kingdom. He is revealing to His subjects how His Kingdom works and how it is that He chooses to rule. In the Beatitudes, Jesus is fulfilling not only the Law but also the Wisdom literature, for He is really speaking about wisdom above all things.
Just as the Psalms and the Proverbs set before us two ways of life, so does Jesus. These two paths are, of course, the way of the wise and the way of the fool. It would be fruitful to meditate on the meaning of each of the phrases in the Beatitudes, but it may be more profitable for me to tell you that they are all really talking about the same thing. The essence of the Beatitudes is love, especially love for God. But this love shows itself in a way that is foreign to man’s nature, for it comes in the form of humility and submission. At the heart of the Beatitudes is the attitude of prayer and a heart that understands that only one who knows that he cannot get for himself what he most truly needs is in a position to be blessed by God.
“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” As with so many of Jesus’ teachings, a wooden literalism in understanding Jesus’ words would lead to heresy and nonsense. Though some have taught this, Jesus is not saying that being poor in earthly possessions is virtuous in and of itself. If this were true, then the hundreds of millions of Hindus in India and Bangladesh, the millions of animists in Africa who remain poor, and virtually everyone before the nineteenth century would be blessed by God by virtue of having been born into poverty. But what a travesty of the life, teaching, and ministry of Jesus – to claim that we are born blessed by God without ever having given our hearts and lives to Him!
The meaning is, of course, given in Matthew’s Gospel: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” It is this poverty of spirit of which Jesus is speaking and by which Mary not only saw but also bore God. What God wants from us is our recognition that we are spiritually poor. More than this: we are all born spiritually bankrupt, for by nature we do not desire God. I have nothing in this life that I have not been given by God, and I have nothing to give Him back but my spiritual poverty.
“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled.” Again, we are not to suppose that being hungry in the belly is virtuous in and of itself. Taken literally (if you want to play that game), then I am blessed about four or five times during the day, but spend a lot of time apart from God’s blessing.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” or “blessed are those who hunger for God.” This is the real meaning. Those who are poor in spirit because they are humble and acknowledge their weakness are also those who will be hungry for God. Those who are big, fat, and sassy are full. They’re full alright – they’re full of themselves and they’re filled with God’s good gifts. But they’ve mistaken the gift for the Giver, the creation for the Creator, and so they will go spiritually hungry, thinking they have no need for God.
What God desires is that just as our bellies tell us to go and find food to make us strong, lest we grow weaker and even die, our souls are to tell us to go and find our spiritual food, to make us strong, lest we grow weaker and die. We are to go out and eagerly, joyfully gather our daily bread, the Manna from heaven that God graciously provides, and which is nothing less than God Himself. “He has filled the hungry with good things” because He has fed the spiritually hungry with Himself.
“Blessed are those who weep now, for you shall laugh.” God takes the tragedy of our lives and turns it into a comedy. We weep now, but in the end we shall all laugh. I imagine that in heaven we’ll be laughing all the time and that one of the things we will laugh at is all the bone-headed, foolish things we did on earth. Because sin will be abolished and the sting of death will have been removed, we can safely laugh. I think it may be like those times on earth when we do something embarrassing at which others laugh. At the time, all we feel is shame and embarrassment, but once we are safely removed from the hurt, we can laugh again. Our dunderheadedness and buffoonery here one hearth may be the bread and butter of the great family reunion in heaven.
In this way, we see that the Beatitudes are always fresh in our lives. We are always called to be humble before God and to be hungry for His presence. If you meditate on the Beatitudes, you will see that they are all connected. St. Ambrose wrote, “Let us see how St. Luke encompassed the eight blessings in the four. We know that there are four cardinal virtues: temperance, justice, prudence, and fortitude. One who is poor in spirit is not greedy. One who weeps is not proud but is submissive and tranquil. One who mourns is humble. One who is just does not deny what he knows is given jointly to all for us. One who is merciful gives away his own goods. One who bestows his own goods does not seek another’s, nor does he contrive a trap for his neighbor. These virtues are interwoven and interlinked, so that one who has one may be seen to have several, and a single virtue befits the saints. Where virtue abounds, the reward too abounds . . . . Thus temperance has purity of heart and spirit, justice has compassion, patience has peace, and endurance has gentleness.”
Prayer: Lord, I acknowledge my poverty before You. I have nothing to offer You but myself but ask that out of Your riches You would come and bless me. I am hungry and not happy in this life because I have been filling myself with things that cannot feed me or sustain. Give Yourself to me that I may feed off You and find new life today. Amen.
Point for Meditation: Meditate more fully on the Beatitudes. You may work through them more slowly, or you may choose to look at verses 24-26. Consider in what ways you are poor in spirit and hungry and in what ways you believe yourself to be rich and full and too much accepted by the world.
Resolution: I resolve to meditate on one phrase from the Beatitudes and how it applies to my life.
Sermon on the Mount – U.S. Public Domain