The Sermon on the Mount in general and the Beatitudes in particular are as dense as a black hole! It’s a little intimidating trying to say something meaningful about the Beatitudes in such a small space, but here goes.
The first thing that strikes me is the very name Beatitudes. This name, of course, isn’t found in the original manuscripts but comes from the Latin word “beatus” for “blessing” or “blessed.” As opposed to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, which seems to amount to a list of things to do and not to do (it’s much more than this!), the Beatitudes only imply what we should do. They say, indirectly, “If you are poor in spirit or meek or hunger and thirst for righteousness, etc., then you will be blessed.”
More accurately, they begin with God and His blessing, and not what we must do. And this is why reading the Beatitudes is refreshing and invigorating – because they begin with God and not me, and therefore they begin with blessing and grace, and not my works.
To back up a little bit, the Sermon on the Mount comes immediately after Jesus has begun his public ministry, which we have seen involved teaching, preaching, and healing. It begins with Jesus going up to a mountain to proclaim the Word of the Lord. Some have likened the Sermon on the Mount to a new giving of the Law, and I think that makes sense. But there are some interesting similarities and differences.
Like Moses, Jesus goes up to a mountain. Of course, the interesting part, behind the scenes, is that God the Son first had to descend to earth before He ascended. Like Moses, Jesus gives the commandments and revelation of the Lord. But unlike Moses, He does it on His own authority. While Moses clearly lays out both blessing and cursing, Jesus begins with blessing – the Beatitudes. As we read through the Sermon on the Mount together, you’ll notice that Jesus begins with the Law of Moses but goes far beyond it in a radical and delightful and challenging way.
The promises of God given through Moses were future-oriented, for those blessings had not yet come to pass. But the promises Jesus gives are not only for the life to come but also for the present, the here and now. For Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant, but Jesus was Christ is the New Covenant.
This is why the Beatitudes, quiet though they are, stirs up such passion in me. This is why, meek and lowly as they appear, they are revolutionary!
The word “blessed” is used to begin 8 sentences in a row. Repetition in the Bible always means something: it’s a way of shouting or using a larger font. Here’s the way I see it:
1 use of the word “blessed” is a fact. It says “blessing.”
2 uses of the word “blessed” is emphatic. It says,
But 8 uses of the word “blessed” is to take the Giant Hammer and bop us over the head! It says,
Now that God has your attention, what could He possibly mean? I think it means something that the first word Jesus teaches with in Matthew’s Gospel (with the exception of 4:17) is “Blessed.” Why? This is God’s desire for humanity: that He might bless them. It was for this reason that Jesus came into the world.
I write a lot in Give Us This Day about what God desires for us to do. You may have guessed that I think being a Christian is very demanding and requires a life of sacrificing oneself to God. But I hope you haven’t missed the reason for all of these things: to come to God and be blessed.
This is how I see the Beatitudes: as a proclamation of God’s blessings upon His people, with some instructions for how to receive this blessing.
The next thing I notice about the Beatitudes is that they are meant not only for heaven but also for the present. “Blessed are” is what Jesus says. Not “Blessed you will be,” but “blessed are.” The blessing of God, the state of beatification, is possible – here and now!
This is the best news of the day, of the week – of my life! That I can receive God’s blessing upon my life – now!Isn’t that the deepest, secret desire of everyone with any interest in God – to be blessed by Him? Immediately, I want to know how.
What does Jesus say? He gives me 8 ways I can choose to live that I might receive His blessing. In fact, the 8 ways of living that will receive His blessing aren’t even things I have to go out and seek: the circumstances necessary to achieve them already exist in my life, and all I have to do is see them in such a way that they will lead to God’s blessing.
They all involve the same basic thing: seeking God and His Kingdom. What Jesus is proclaiming so loudly that we still hear it 2000 years later is that if we seek God and His Kingdom, we will find Him and live in His Kingdom – starting right n-n-n-n-n-n-n-ow! You have the ability to choose to live in God’s kingdom now, for the kingdom of heaven has been opened to all believers! That Kingdom which is in heaven comes to earth whenever we do the will of the Lord. And God’s deepest desire and will for us is only that we come to Him!
Look at each of the 8 blessings: see how each involves us coming to God to find Him and submit ourselves to Him. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Who are the poor in spirit? Those who don’t think too highly of themselves but have the same mind which was also in Christ Jesus and humble themselves before God, ready to do His will. If you live this way today, then yours is the kingdom of heaven.
I won’t go through each Beatitude and apply it: that’s your job today. Here’s what you need to know: that God desires to bless you. In fact, that’s His deepest desire. To that end, He sent His Son, who is His blessing in your life. God desires to bless you today. More than this, He promises to bless you today, if you will only come to Him, seeking Him with your whole heart.
Are you broken or crushed or down today? That’s terrible – unless you allow God to use it as a way to humble yourself before Him. The moment you do that, you place yourself in God’s Kingdom and are in a condition where God may bless you.
Do you mourn because of the evil in the world and in your life? Are you burdened by your sins and the sins of the world? That can be a heavy, heavy weight. Or it can be the one thing that drives you into the arms of the Lord, where He may bless you.
The Beatitudes are God’s public proclamation that He desires to bless you, right now, right here, in whatever circumstances you find yourself today.
Don’t think you have to be perfect before you come to Him (which may be a form of pride). Don’t think you must be persecuted or be completely pure or mournful. The one thing that is necessary is that you are meek and lowly before Him – and that you come.
If you do this one necessary thing today, then the blessing of God will rest upon you!
Prayer: Father, I submit myself before your merciful Hand. You are the One who hates a proud look and casts down those who exalt themselves. You resist the proud, but give grace to the humble. Forgive me for exalting myself and thinking and acting as if I were You and don’t need You. Here I willing submit myself to You in all things, for You are my deepest desire in this life. Make me poor in spirit that I may dwell in Your blessed kingdom, and grant me a pure heart that I may see You. In all things give me the mind of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose Name I pray. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
- Pick one of the Beatitudes that God is directing you to today. How might it apply in your life, and how might you seek the Lord’s blessing today?
- How can you receive all that God has given you today in a spirit that will lead to blessing?
- What form might God’s blessing take in your life?
Resolution: I resolve to put aside all distractions today and humbly come before the Lord today that He may bless me!
© 2016 Fr. Charles Erlandson