Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12
Every journey needs something. Hiking needs boots and sometimes hiking poles. Heavy coat for winter. Floaty and sunglasses for the pool and beach. And, at the beginning of their journey together, Jesus knows just what the disciples need.
The Beatitudes, named from the latin translation of the word blessing, the beatitudes are the beginning of Christ’s public ministry in Matthew. Chapter 1 – Jesus is born. Chapter 2 – magi visit the toddler Jesus, Jesus and his family flee from Herod’s persecution. Chapter 3 – John the Baptist baptizes Jesus. Chapter 4 – Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, Jesus taps Peter, Andrew, James, and John as the first disciples, Jesus begins generally teaching, healing, proclaiming the good news of God’s present and future kingdom, and crowds begin to follow him. Then, at the very beginning of chapter five, we find the first teachings of Christ captured in this gospel. The beatitudes are his first bits of guidance, of spiritual sustenance. And they are kind of curious, especially at face value.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are those who mourn
Now, I know how grief has felt for me. I know how being poor in spirit has felt, and in the depths of those emotions, I would not have described myself as blessed, or happy, or fortunate, which are both other possible translations. I would not have called myself blessed, and yet, I was. Winnie the Pooh once said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” And a quote from one of my favorite tv shows, “What is grief, if not love persevering?” Christ was not saying, hey y’all, grief and hopelessness are great. No, he was reminding the disciples of our inherent belovedness, our inherent not-alone-ness. Rough times happen to everyone, they do NOT mean you are bad or did something wrong. Rough times do not mean you are not blessed. Rough times happen. Difficult feelings come up. And, you are blessed, you are loved, you are not alone. In the beatitudes, Christ names nine general realities of life and specific things the disciples might encounter and affirms that no matter what, you are loved and God’s transforming power is at work.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The root of the greek word we translate as “poor in spirit” means to cower, to crouch, to be hunched or bent over. Some versions of scripture use the word “hopeless” instead of poor in spirit. When your spirit feels like it is cowering in a corner, when you feel hopeless, take heart, it won’t last forever. God has not abandoned you. Yours is the kingdom of heaven too.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
The greek word for “mourn” has very intense connotations, as though the grief is so severe that it begins to take over you. And that greek word for “comforted” is all about presence and nearness.
Life comes out of nowhere and you might find yourself filled with overwhelming grief. And in that grief, God will call to you and come close to you. In that grief you will be loved, you will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Meekness, gentleness, is not weakness but deep strength and power. Meek and gentle is how Christ will enter Jerusalem, riding on a donkey in Matthew 21. It is how Christ himself is described in Matthew 11. The world will not be inherited through domination and conquest. The Roman Empire around the disciples used force and violence, but that kind of power does not last. The people who express strength and power with gentleness and humility, they and their legacies will truly last.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
The world teaches us to hunger and thirst for so many things. Money, status, looks, fame, but none of those actually satisfy a hungry heart. The most fulfilling thing? God’s righteousness and justice. When we hunger and thirst for God above all else, we will always be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Again, the world does not teach mercy and compassion. It revels in revenge, judgement, and punishment. We may not always feel merciful or compassionate but the compassion and mercy we show others, God has already given back to us in love, forgiveness, and grace.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Here, Christ foreshadows the future. His life and teachings transform individual lives and also challenge the status quo of political and religious systems. Pursuing God’s path, pursuing God’s justice and righteousness may ruffle some feathers. But take heart, you are already a part of and are helping usher in the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I think this last one is my favorite one. Eight times, Jesus was like, Blessed are “the,” blessed are “those who.” Jesus drew the disciples in without them realizing it and then suddenly, bam, blessed are you and by the way, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, you were also the “the’s” and the “those who’s.” He’d been talking to and about the disciples the whole time. With every beatitude he’d been talking to them and about them, giving them strength, guidance, and sustenance. He’d been talking to and about us the whole time.
In the beatitudes, Jesus names our inherent belovedness, our inherent blessedness. He opens each statement with the thing that no temporary circumstance can change or erase, and then names things that we will face or feel. He names some of the rougher parts of life, grief, persecution, violence, hopelessness, but does not stop there. No, Jesus ends each statement with the good news. Jesus ends on the hope we have in the midst of those hard things. Jesus ends each statement with God’s transforming love.
The beatitudes were teachings, guidance, and sustenance for the disciples at the beginning of their journey with Jesus. They are also teachings, guidance, and sustenance for us today, no matter where we are in our life and faith journeys. The beatitudes, in their beauty and wisdom, speak to general human conditions, specific situations 2000 years ago, and our specific situations today. We are meant to hear ourselves and our lives in them, so I want to give us a moment, to bring it home, to hear the personal amidst these timeless words.
In just a minute, the beatitudes will be upon the screen and I am going to read them out loud one more time. As I read them out loud, I will pause between each statement. During that pause, consider how that statement connects with you, your heart, your life, your spirit, your emotions. Ask yourself:
What do these words bring up?
How do they connect with in my life?
What word of hope, strength, courage, endurance, or love does God has for me today?