A quick online search on the SOTM turns up massive amounts of information. Of that, we noticed 4 names that popped up again and again- men who intentionally lived the SOTM in their lives (for various reasons and in various ways): Jesus, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. We also noted that each of these men where killed for their convictions. Bonhoeffer onced said of the Sermon:
- “Having reached the end of the beatitudes, we naturally ask if there is any place of this earth for the community which they describe. Clearly, there is one place, and only one, and that is where the poorest, meekest, and most sorely tried of all men is to be found – on the cross at Golgotha. The fellowship of the beatitudes is the fellowship of the Crucified. With him it has lost all, and with him it has found all. From the cross there comes the call ‘blessed, blessed.’”
We recognized, then, that following the SOTM would inevitably call us to costly lives of sacrifice.
What does it mean to be “blessed”? Of the two words in Greek that translate mostly commonly, the one used in the SOTM is “markarios” which denotes a pre-existing state or condition. In other words, the blessing is not something that comes after or as a result of the condition, but is a blessing in the midst of said condition. We are not rewarded with blessing because we are poor in spirit, but rather are blessed even in midst of suffering.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for their is the kingdom of heaven”
For as longs as there have been Biblical scholars, the difference between this verse and it’s parallel in Luke 6 (“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”) have been debated. Some will suggest that when the Jews of Jesus day heard Him say this, it would have immediately brought to mind such Scriptures as Isaiah 66:2, referring to a “poor and contrite” spirit. Others, however, will note that in Luke 6, the blessed of verse 20 finds its parallel woe in verse 24, which says: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort”, clearly indicating that Jesus was, at least in part, referring to material poorness as well.
This difference could have filled our entire evening, as it sparked many strong opinions from various perspectives. What we could agree on was that to be poor in spirit, like simplicity, is an internal transformation of the heart that, by necessity, must find expression in our external behaviour and choices, specifically in our relationship to wealth (and thus, sacrifice, selflessness, generosity, etc.). Still, it is a point we will need to explore more.
What, then, is the kingdom of heaven? While our time was far too limited to get into this point in depth, we all agreed that this was not about the promise of eternal life in heaven (at least not primarily), but rather about the establishment of God’s shalom– peace, justice, compassion, etc.- in the midst of our broken world. Against the “wisdom” of the world, God’s kingdom here and now is found, less in the bold victories of unwavering confidence, but out of our embrace of our own brokenness and humility.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”
We all suffer pain and loss. As a community, Little Flowers has faced a great deal of both. This Beatitude at first can seem simple, even sentimental, but in the face of real suffering and loss, it is profound. When our friend & brother Andrew took his life this year (due to untreated mental illness) shortly after becoming a Christian, we were all bombarded with questions and uncertainties, both from our own hearts and from others around us. In the end, this Scripture gave us permission to truly mourn, avoiding the empty and desperate attempts to “put a good face on it”. It also promised God’s primary posture to us in our suffering- the Comforter.
While God can (and has) certainly brought loss as a means of correction or consequence, we too often look at such times as though we are somehow to blame. This dangerous prosperity mentality is deadly. We should not face suffering with undeserved guilt or let it fester into bitterness. Rather, we must mourn. Jesus preached these words to a people all too familiar with suffering. So we must navigate between the extremes of foolishly ignoring the consequences of our choices that leads to suffering and the lie that all suffering is judgment for sin or lack of faith.
Just as Jesus said that the poor would always be with us, so too will we be daily sharing life with others who are suffering as we follow that missional path that He has called us to. Therefore, we must responsibly, respectfully and realistically face suffering and loss- our own and that of others- without easy answers. To mourn is not to deny Christ’s ultimate victory, but to acknowledge the legitimacy of our current suffering. To that end, we also committed again as a community to stand with each other and our wider community in the face of suffering and loss.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”
The first thing we learned about this verse was how misleading the translation of the word “earth” is. The word would better be translated as the “land”. To the Jews of Jesus day, this would immediately have been connected to the Promise Land, which was currently occupied by their Roman conquerors. So, as they waited for the Messiah to rise up and wipe out their enemies, Jesus’ admonition that the Promise Land would be had through meekness would have been shocking at best. While the people were often thinking only of the immediate political reality, Jesus saw that the Promised Land represented much more, including the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant (see Genesis 12-17).
The pattern of the Beatitudes is becoming clearer with each verse. The Kingdom will not belong to the proud (and many Jews were quite proud to be the chosen people of God), but rather to the humble. In the face of suffering and loss, God does not promise vengeance and victory, but rather comfort in the midst of our pain. And finally, the Promised Land will not be liberated through military might, but rather, even then in the midst of occupation, is inherited by the meek. Meekness is not weakness, but rather a confident humility (which is not a contradiction), a trusting obedience and a steadfast faith in God in spite of what the circumstances suggest.
As we considered these few Beatitudes, we realized that to embrace them goes against our nature. It is demanding, difficult and dangerous. It requires patience, trust and above all, grace. We prayed together that we would hold fast to these commitments, not letting the abstract ideals distract us from walking them out in every day life together.