In a few short sentences the Beatitudes are perhaps the most important, subversive and revolutionary text in the Bible.
The Beatitudes sum up Jesus' teaching about what it means to live as a child of God’s kingdom. They can be found right at the beginning of a long passage of teaching by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, known as the Sermon on the Mount. Just as Moses taught the people of Israel from the mountain after he had received the Commandments, so Jesus begins his ministry by going up a mountain and teaching his disciples.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
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 children of God.
Blessed are those who suffer persecution for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Some of these sayings are difficult to understand, and some are uncomfortable for us today as they would have been to Jesus' first hearers. One of many ways of interpreting the beatitudes is as follows.
You are blessed when you know you are empty without God.
You are blessed when you are sad for things that have gone or changed.
You are blessed when you let go of your own importance.
You are blessed when you are desperate to see the rightness of God’s Kingdom come.
You are blessed when you are deeply kind and compassionate.
You are blessed when you are right with God in your inside you - your heart, mind and soul.
You are blessed when you work to bring peace in the middle of trouble and fighting and fear.
You are blessed when people hate you or laugh at you because you are a member of God’s family.
Looking at how Jesus lives them out himself is the best way of understanding what they mean. So, for instance, if you are not sure what Jesus means by ‘blessed are those who mourn’, look at the examples in Jesus’ own life and ministry where he cries out with sadness and anguish to God. This will help us see that mourning is not just about bereavement, but a whole attitude of lamentation and crying out to God when we see and experience the injustices and sorrows of the world.
Some of us may find that we are naturally people who thirst for justice, or who are merciful to others. But likewise we may also conclude that being pure in heart or meek do not come naturally to us. Whatever our natural tendencies, though, all of the beatitudes are for all of us, and they need to be understood as a whole.
The Beatitudes are complex. They are hard to live out. But they are also very beautiful. They describe what it means to live by a set of standards, callings and attitudes that go way beyond the observation of rules or the keeping of the law. This is what life looks like when you are truly Christ-like.
In order to follow Jesus and live the Christian life we need to enter into the challenging world of the Beatitudes.