Chapter 4 of Matthew ends with a rather large jump in time. In verse 18ff, he is calling his Twelve. Then in 23 he travels all over, preaching, teaching, and healing. No sense of time is given except that many healings took place and people from all over Galilee became followers. It might have been weeks or months. No question though, Jesus hit the ground running.
Before we jump into today’s reading, note that the Apostles are newbies. One day they are fishing for a living and the next they are following a rabbi. Normally, men who followed rabbis were well educated and wanted to learn all they could. Most of the Twelve seem to have been working men with limited religious education. Not dumb, just average Joe’s.
Chapters 5,6, & 7 make up the Sermon on the Mount. Within the chapters you will read a good summary of the Gospel. The Sermon begins with the Beatitudes, a quick listing of the kinds of people Jesus has a special interest in; the kind who most need his help. I did a Google search for ‘beatitudes and attitudes’ and there are numerous sites for sermons, if you are interested.
The word beatitude comes from the Latin beatus which translates the Greek makarios, meaning blessed or fortunate. Note too that the word refers to already blessed. Jesus is not talking about the end of time, the poor in spirit have God’s blessing now.
Luke also records the Beatitudes in 6:20-26. His differ in that he records four blessings and four woes. The blessings are found in Matthew who does not include any woes.
I have put together three versions of each Beatitude: NIV, Cotton Patch, & Phillips, in that order. I think it helps to read several to get a better sense of the meaning Jesus intended.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The spiritually humble are God’s people, for they are citizens of his new order. How happy are the humble-minded, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!
Understand first that the crowd listening to Jesus would have know at once that he was quoting portions of the Scriptures and putting them together in a shorthand list. In Isaiah 61:1 we read, the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. In verse 61:3, we see a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. NIV In Isaiah 66:2, we read, But this is the man to whom I will look he that is poor and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. Kenneth Bailey
As Matthew records it, Jesus is reminding his followers that everything he says has already been said, often many times. God cares for the poor and those who are in a spirit of despair. Additionally, Jesus stresses that the poor will share in the blessings of God, in this case to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Luke’s version reads, Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. NIV Verse 24 has the contrasting woe, But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. NIV
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. They who are deeply concerned are God’s people, for they will see their ideas become reality. How happy are those who know what sorrow means for they will be given courage and comfort!
The Luke version reads, Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. NIV
To be in mourning is just what we experience today when someone we love dies, or we are in despair over the state of the nation or the world. Some of us fall into a pit of mourning that we can’t get out of. Jesus speaks to those people. Again, in Isaiah 61 we read that God will comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion. NIV
Kenneth E. Bailey grew up as the son of missionaries in the Middle East, mostly Egypt and was himself a missionary there. In his book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, he writes, Mourners endure suffering and the bless-ed ones among them experience the comfort of God.
Bailey posed an important question. What happens then to people who mourn because of their own pain and are at the same time insensitive to the pain of others. There is no hint that such people are among the bless-ed.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. They who are gentle are his people, for they will be his partners across the land. Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them!
See Psalm 37:9b, 11a, 29. Those who hope in Yahweh shall have the land for their own. The poor will have the land for their own. The upright will have the land for their own, there they shall live forever. NJB The land in question is the Promised Land. We can read it today as the New Earth.
I like that expression, those who claim nothing from Phillips translation. We Americans have distorted the meaning of meekness. We connect it with weakness, cowardice, deficiency. It requires strength to be meek. I have no claim on any of the earth but a tiny patch of dirt. No claim on any person, not even my wife. While I (we) own that patch of dirt, I don’t own her. I no longer have any claim on our children.
To be meek is to expect nothing from this world, but to expect blessings from God. To be meek is to search for the Justice of God and fight for that Justice in this world, even though we will lose more times than win. Being meek is siding with God alone.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. They who have an unsatisfied appetite for the right are God’s people, for they will be given plenty to chew on. Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness, for they will be fully satisfied!
Luke reads, Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. NIV
The word, happy, in the Phillips translation is fully in the spirit of the Greek, as is blessed.
Righteousness is a word that crops up in the OT more often than we can count. [Righteous—356 in NIV. Righteousness—136 in NIV, but who’s counting?]
God constantly reminds us to treat people righteously. That means the Golden Rule, So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. NIV It should be our goal as a nation as well. USA falls far short.
Look again at the first part of the verse, those who hunger and thirst. For what? For righteousness. To rephrase, those who try every day to treat every person as Jesus would treat them, and being concerned that there are so many more who need that healing touch or word. We need to thirst for the opportunity to help people.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. The generous are God’s people, for they will be treated generously. Happy are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them!
Showing mercy to people is the righteous thing to do. One of the synonyms for mercy is tolerance. We in the USA have become excessively intolerant, with each other and with outsiders. Our political campaigns present the opponents as evil. It is so bad that now Congress is unwilling to pass any law that might help the other political party. The President refuses to help any state governed by the other party. We avoid talking with anyone we know to be on the other side.
We are also worried about aliens, especially illegal ones. The President has announced that illegal Mexicans are here to spread drugs and kill us, even though the conservative Cato Institute has found that Mexicans are half as likely to commit crimes as the rest of us. In Texas, which locks up more people than any other state and most nations, the crime rate for Mexicans is half.
The point is, we are not being merciful as a nation, and I suggest, not as individuals. Being tolerant is merciful. Being tolerant is Christ-like.
Another aspect of mercy is forgiveness. We who claim to follow Jesus are expected to forgive everyone of their wrong doings. How does that work? A drunk driver hits my child and kills her. I mourn her loss but forgive the driver, even as I want that driver off the road and properly punished under the law. But there is a greater Law and Judge which calls for forgiveness.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Those whose motives are pure are God’s people, for they will have spiritual insight. Happy are the utterly sincere, for they will see God!
What are your motives? Why do you patronize one store over another? Why do you attend the church of your choice? Is it because of the people? Is it because you like them? Are they just like you?
The pure in heart buy from those who have the products you want and need. The pure in heart worship where they can feel the presence of God.
It is not always easy to know why we end up at a particular church. The people are generally similar to us in most respects. Does that mean we go mostly to socialize? Could we come closer to God in a more diverse congregation?
What are your motives? The only motive we should have is to be close to God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Men of peace and good will are God’s people, for they will be known throughout the land as his children. Happy are those who make peace, for they will be sons of God!
It is hard to be peacemakers in a country that glorifies war. Not only has the USA been at war in two countries for the past 19 years, but we have sent armed troops to other countries at least once, on the average, every year since 1789, mostly since 1900. We invaded Canada twice. Canada!
We live in a world where war happens, and we should be prepared for it. But there are 22 options to use short of war. When those fail, then we must defend ourselves. Even Quakers joined the fight in WWII.
Do you work for peace? Do you stand with Woodrow Wilson in his failed bid to prevent war? Yet peace is more than the absence of war. It only exists when God is at the center of our lives. Yes, that can happen to a nation, but not one that spends 60% of it’s budget on the military and only 12% on Medicare, health, and education.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Those who have endured much for what’s right are God’s people; they are citizens of his new order. Happy are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of goodness, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!
Are you being persecuted? Why not?
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. You all are God’s people when others call you names, and harass you and tell all kinds of false tales on you just because you follow me. Be cheerful and good-humored, because your spiritual advantage is great. And what happiness will be yours when people blame you and ill-treat you and say all kinds of slanderous things against you for my sake! Be glad then, yes, be tremendously glad—for your reward in Heaven is magnificent.
Be righteous and do good.