Introducing the Beatitudes
This is the first in a blog series that follows our journey through the Beatitudes over the past couple of months. While the beatitudes can sometimes be reduced down to a cute little set of pithy one-liners that show us how to be #blessed, my conviction is that there is much more going on here than that!
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
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 because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.“
In this famous sermon Jesus is speaking to a 1st century Jewish audience who were waiting for a deliverer. They believed themselves to be God’s chosen people and yet they had been oppressed by violent empires for hundreds of years. Surely God would deliver them from this mess and would usher in God’s kingdom.
And they knew how this kingdom would work. There was a system, laws, regulations, religious power and control. They knew who would be in and who would be out. Who would be “blessed” and who were “sinners.”
They knew with whom God’s kingdom would begin.
And yet Jesus offers a different set of ideas. He proclaims a different kind of reality. These beatitudes are not a set of conditional transactions.
We instinctively like conditional transactions because we can figure out where we fit and how to get it all right. We can control it. But of course in reality we can’t control it. So these lists also make us deeply anxious. I’m not getting it right, I’m not doing it well enough, I can’t get the 9 principles nailed down. We like the formula, but we can never keep up with it. It becomes incredibly tiring.
So instead, Jesus offers us a new of way of seeing reality, a new way of seeing the kingdom of God, a new way of saying who God is with and who God is for. Dallas Willard, in his book ‘The Divine Conspiracy, says the following:
““The Beatitudes simply cannot be ‘good news’ if they are understood as a set of “how-tos” for achieving blessedness. They would only amount to a new legalism. They would not serve to throw open the kingdom—anything but. They would impose a new brand of Phariseeism, a new way of closing the door—as well as some very gratifying new possibilities for the human engineering of righteousness.”
Willard suggests to us that what is happening right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, is that he is throwing the doors to the kingdom of God wide open to all of the people who aren’t even thought to be close.
You might not be in the upper echelons of the spiritual and religious clubs. You may have all sorts of reasons to be profoundly sad and in mourning. People might think you’re weak because you show kindness and mercy to people and refuse to play the game… You might not have the power and prestige you think you need.
But the doors of the kingdom of God are thrown wide open to you.
Jesus says, you are blessed. God is with you, and God is for you.
This is a pronouncement, not a conditional transaction.
The kingdom of heaven has come near to you.