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 receive 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 for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is 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. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
They stand out like pure true trumpet calls. They are like a series of nine truly great paintings. They are beacons, greatest hits in the entire series of world literature. They are poetic and prophetic, realistic and idealistic. As soon as you read them, you just know that they are utter truth, but utterly unreachable. You know you would like to live like this but you are quite sure that you will never manage it. They are the Beatitudes.
Beatitudes are about attitudes. So many of us today are stuffed with attitude much of it is aggressive, arrogant, uncaring and selfish, and often ignorant. We suck in attitude, from watching EastEnders, from reading the Daily Mail and listening to bigoted gossip. We plug in to not very intelligent politicians, trading their prejudices and it fills us with attitude. The hallmark of modern attitude is that we are right and others are wrong. Attitude is a thousand miles away from beatitude.
A beatitude is a ‘great blessedness’, a bestowing of peace and joy. I like to think of a great blessing as being rather like the falling of the softest of rain on a hot and sunny summer’s day. Together the refreshing water and the warming sunshine fall on our head and shoulders and soak through to our mind and heart.
In these nine statements of God’s values and promises, Jesus is basically taking the world with all its tacky, shallow and materialistic values and turning it upside down. You see the world’s beatitudes or blessings are all for:
The rich and famous,
The good looking and healthy.
Those who are good at sports and career fulfilled.
The successful, the powerful,
And all those with lots of family and friends.
They are for those who live in a big house,
And drive a nice car.
But Jesus goes for:
Those who mourn,
The meek, the righteous.
The merciful, the pure.
The makers and keepers of peace.
The ‘put upon’.
When you look at this list you can easily come to the conclusion that Jesus is actually describing himself. This is what he was like as a person, this is how he lived, and how other people treated him. Jesus the beatitude teacher is in effect Jesus the beatitude man. He lived meekly, purely, vulnerably and for the sake of others.
This then is the upside down bit. The people who will be most blessed, most enriched and most warmed to the core, both in this world and then on into Heaven itself, will be the Jesus-type people. That is not to say that we will be as purely perfect, as always meek, as peace-making as Jesus was. But it is to say that we are trying to find him, to follow and be like him.
Jesus lived God’s way. His beatitudes form the right attitudes about how to be a ‘proper human being’. More than this they are promises and assurances about comfort and inheritance, filling and mercy, childhood and gladness. Now it is vital to realise that this is not a big morality tale, ‘do this and you will be rewarded with that’. Rather, it is a big promise or ‘grace tale’, not so much about living a good life but more about receiving a God blessing. In the words of Tom Wright this is not so much ‘good advice as good news’.
Now here’s a final thought, if you mashed together the words ‘beautiful’ and ‘blessed’ you might end up with something like ‘beatitude’.
O Lord God,
May your blessing on me
So touch my heart that I might be a blessing to others.
May your meekness make me meek,
Your righteousness make me hunger,
Your pureness purify me.
So that this day,
I might live as one of the blessed ones.