The Beatitudes Part 2 – Sermon on the Mount (3)
This week at Little Flowers Community, we continued our series on the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM) by tackling the last of the Beatitudes. It was a larger portion for one evening of discussion, but it was really encouraging. So let’s dive right in:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”
When most of hear the word “righteousness”, what usually comes to mind is the idea of moral and ethical uprightness. While this idea is important and certainly a part of the broader understanding of righteousness, it doesn’t best represent the meaning of the word. As we dug in on the word, we discovered that one of the best summations of what it means is found in Matthew 22:37-40, which says:
- Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
True righteousness in this context is about action and relationship- that is right relationship with God and neighbour. For many of Jesus’ listeners, the words of Micah 6:8 would have sounded in their hearts & minds: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” So while moral & ethical uprightness is important, it is the natural by product of truly loving God & neighbour, living lives of justice, mercy & humility.
This life of pro-active compassion & justice is something that Jesus says we must hunger & thirst for. In an age and culture of pet obesity, it is difficult for most of us to truly understand genuine hunger or thirst. However, to the desert people of Israel whose history was tied to survival in a harsh & unforgiving wilderness, Jesus words were powerful. This kind of active righteousness is something for which our very survival depends, therefore inspiring us to pursue it a near desperate urgency.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”
When we look at the life and teachings of Christ, we can see two basic meanings for the idea of mercy. Rirst, an active compassion for the suffering, regardless of the subjects “worthiness” to receive that compassion. In this first meaning we must recognize that compassion is not simply an emotion. While conceived in the heart, it because genuine only insofar as it is born in our active will. Feeling compassion for the suffering is important, but ultimately empty if we fail to respond in some meaningful way. In fact, to feel real compassion but fail to act is, in many ways, worse than no compassion at all.
Second, mercy refers to the forgiveness of others, just as we received forgiveness from God. While this might seem to be an easy value to embrace in the face of petty offenses, the reality is that it is monumentally difficult. We called to forgive others, even in the face of the worst of sins, yet most of us have a hard time letting go of the anger of being cut off in traffic. This radical forgiveness is offensive to our sensibilities. Consider how the Jews of Jesus day felt on hearing this, knowing that His teachings extended to their Roman oppressors. Even from the cross, Jesus extended forgiveness. Are we that committed to extending mercy?
It is from that declaration of Jesus on the cross that we learn the hard truth of this lesson. This Beatitude promises that we will be shown mercy, yet clearly Jesus suffered and died horrifically. The mercy we are promised in mercy extended by God. It is not a promise that, should we take the moral high road and extend mercy to others that they will then show mercy to us. In fact, as Jesus life proved, the path He walked (and calls us to follow) leads inevitably to the cross.
So we must ask ourselves: Are we actively pursuing lives of compassion to a suffering, but often ungrateful world? Will we extend forgiveness to others, even when they don’t do likewise? Will we hold true to this grace when we are rewarded with suffering? We must.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”
Judaism is a purity culture, evident in the many and complex purity laws found in the Old Testament. When Jesus referenced purity, He was speaking to a people well aware of all that was involved. However, by referring to purity in heart, Jesus reminded the Jews that purity was not merely the fulfillment of these external obligations, but rather that the external was the fruit produced from inner commitment (Psalm 24:3-4). We often find Jesus’ rebuking the religious leaders for failing to see this very important distinction.
What was Jesus referring to when He used the word “heart”? At Little Flowers we often refer to this idea by mentioning the 3 H’s: Head, Heart & Hands. That is, our minds, our wills and our emotions. (To help you remember, think of Dorothy’s 3 companions on her journey home: the Scarecrow who had no mind, the Tin Man who had no heart and the Cowardly Lion who lacked the will to act) Purity of heart, then, is when these three dynamics of submitted to the heart, mind and will of God.
When this happens, we are told that we will see God. Again, as we look at Scripture, we see that people could not look at the fullness of God without dying. Even those who saw His glory in part had to veil their faces from others as a result. Jesus words would have been powerful to the Jews considering these realities. While He was not promising that they would look upon God in His fullness with their naked eyes, He was promising them that they would come to know God in deeper and truer ways. And like those great men of old, their natures would be changed by that knowledge and reflected to those who saw them and how they lived.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be call sons of God”
The word “peacemaker” is only used this once in Scripture, making it something of mystery. As we studied different books and resources on this verse, we saw that many scholars often quick brushed over this verse as though they didn’t know what to say. Others came up with wildly different interpretations. We realized that this point would need much more thought & discussion as a community.
We realized that the implications of the word “peacemaker” suggested a proactive calling that meant far more than just “being peaceful” or “keeping the peace”. The violence we are meant to confront is more than just physical, but also cultural, racial, etc. We also realized that peace is more than the absence of violence, but the presence of God’s shalom. The work of the peacemaker is one that demands deep commitment, passion and a great deal of courage.
What does it mean, then, to be call “sons [or children] of God”? So familiar with a faith that calls God Father, we often fail to see how radical God’s love for us is. When God made His covenant with Abraham, He was extending a value on people (and the individual) that was unprecedented. Further, more than just making a covenant that reflect value, He extended His identity onto us as His children. That this identity is more significantly discovered in the work of peacemaking tells us something very critical about His nature and character.
“Blessed are those who persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you”
Jesus wraps of the Beatitudes with a closer that any salesman would tell you is a huge mistake. Why finish with the promise of suffering? The word “blessed” gets lost in the dire implications of what we will face. However, not only are we called blessed, but we are commanded to rejoice and be glad!
Loving God and loving others as Christ does, calling us to be active peacemakers and advocates of justice, will put us at odds with the principalities and powers. It will inevitably mean suffering and persecution. However, we have to be careful here. First, we are not called to go look for suffering. Second, and more importantly, just because people mistreat you doesn’t mean you are doing God’s will. Many Christians act with ignorance and arrogance, inspiring many to reject them (and sadly the Gospel) as a result. This is NOT what Jesus is referring to.
These final Beatitudes are the culmination of the previous: we are called to be humble, compassion, just, peacemakers, etc., and when this leads to suffering, we are not called to respond with vengeance or retaliation, but with these same qualities, except now with rejoicing and gladness. I imagine many people listening to Jesus walked away at this point, as their hopes for a militant Messiah in Him disappeared. In the same way, far fewer people will embrace the calling of Christ in the face of these realities. However, we must never underplay the realities in order to make Christianity more attractive. Clearly Jesus did not, so how can we?
Next week is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, so we will be taking a break from the SOTM series until the following week. Hope this has been a helpful to you as it has to us.