I am going to begin to incorporate posts (and do videos) about the Bible and Christian spirituality in a more linear fashion. This will be the first time I’ve done any type of series on any topic, so we’ll see how it goes and change it if need be. I am currently planning on doing a weekly post on on a subject until I complete a given series. Here on the blog, I will probably keep my thoughts fairly concise. On my videos, I will likely expound a bit more, like always.
And the subject that I want to begin with is the Sermon on the Mount.
Without further ado, here we go.
1 ‘Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others 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 so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus is giving us an introduction to his wonderful sermon that will follow. Like any great speaker, he is attempting to grab our attention.
Anachronistically, he also is somewhat speaking like our contemporary conspiracy theorists: Things are not how they appear to be. Jesus is describing a world that is upside down. You have been told to look at the world one way, but really there is a deeper and more accurate way to understand it. It’s almost as if we’ve all been using a compass to navigate ourselves to a destination, but the compass needle wrongly points south. Jesus, in this sermon, and perhaps especially with the Beatitudes, is going to fix our compass so that it points North once again. We will finally see straight. Specifically, Jesus is describing ‘Kingdom living’ or what life will be like within his holy Church. And as the Church is the preview of what the end of times will entail, he is also describing what will happen when Heaven meets Earth.
One matter we want to prepare ourselves for- particularly if you are like me and are from a Christian tradition that reads the Bible in an semi-autistic manner- is Jesus’ constant use of colorful language and ample use of hyperbole. He is not a professor, legal scholar (at least in the Roman tradition sense of the word), dry intellectual, nor esoteric guru. He is a master teacher. He is speaking to a broad audience, literally to the entire world’s population either directly or indirectly. That means he is speaking in a fashion that will not only intrigue the ivory tower dwellers but also in a way that will appeal to the bushmen of Africa. No small task. And if we take in Jesus’ central message, and indeed, even in this very passage, he is catering much more towards those poor bushmen than towards the ‘Wise of this world.’ Basically, while we will certainly nerd out a bit with our interpretation, let’s try not to be too technical in our exegesis.
That being said, we do we have one simple question that may arise when reading the Beatitudes: Is Christ here being descriptive or prescriptive? Is he describing the way things are or is he is prescribing the way things ought to be? I think the answer to that is “Yes.” More specifically, it depends on the particular Beatitude. Jesus is not likely instructing us to be be poor in spirit or to mourn, so he is describing how these wrongs will be righted in God’s Kingdom. On the other hand, when Christ says “Blessed are the merciful” he is not only describing how the world will be corrected, but is also implicitly prescribing that we should me merciful.
Let’s dig in.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven“
Christians will not be the vain, vapid, and high on life types. After all, only the sick know that they need a physician.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Pregnant with meaning. Death is not final. The dead will rise again.
Also, the Church will be a community, a family. When people suffer losses, they will not suffer alone. There will be arms that hold those who are tempted with despair.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
You know those people that you do not look twice at? Those people in fly over country? Those hard-working folks who are under-appreciated and who just can’t catch a break from the ruling class?
Yeah, they’re going to get everything. The Earth. It’s theirs.
Wealth comes and goes. People in power today can be deposed tomorrow. And the people who strive after those things are building on a foundation of sand.
The meek? They simply enjoy life and make babies. They don’t get destroyed in their constant pursuit of power. Over the generations, their families take over everything. And at the end, the land literally will belong exclusively to them.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Righteousness is a fancy word for justice. Justice is coming, you just have to wait for it. And while this applies to any milieu, we are certainly hungering and thirsting right now in the West.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Mercy is not weakness. It is not a failure to stand up to evil. Mercy can only be offered in a situation where a wrong has been acknowledged, not only by the victim but also by the perpetrator. And instead of pursuing revenge, a person more wisely chooses to forgive. These types will be forgiven of their wrongs. The brutal and the cruel will have their severity returned on them.
9 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
I believe it was Soren Kierkegaard that said to be pure in heart is to desire one thing. Jesus will discuss this in more detail in the following chapter. Suffice it to say here that “Pure in heart” not only includes the noble pursuit of freedom from worldly stains, but also cultivating a single-mindedness towards what we are concerned with.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Once again, Jesus is not calling on anyone to be a sissy nor does he explicate how peace is to be achieved. There is complexity here, as Jesus will later say in Matthew’s Gospel “I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” A reminder, don’t be autistic and don’t fall into a trap of false binaries. The Bible is big, life is long, so we need to be contextual. One resolution I would propose is that there is that there is a fundamental difference between fighting over selfish squabbles as compared to fighting over Godly justice. We should engage in the latter while abstaining from the former.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.“
Once again, current events of 2020 come to mind. As Churches are burned and Christian civilization is being openly persecuted we are reminded that this is nothing new. And it will be corrected. More importantly, when Jesus returns again, there will be a great reward for those who endure these blows at the hands of evil-doers.
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