My church, Eikon, is in the middle of a series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (starts in Matthew 5). We just got started, so it’s a great time to join us if you’re interested. This week, I was asked to speak on the Beatitudes, and I figured I’d turn my talk into a series of blog posts to share with folks who didn’t/couldn’t attend (or just folks who didn’t catch a word I said because I’m such a fast talker). I will say that I am not a pastor or theologian. I’m just an English literature scholar/grad student who likes Jesus.
Anyway, consider this Part I on the Beatitudes!
To start, I think the way I’ve often heard the Beatitudes preached makes them out to be some sort of checklist of things we must do to be blessed by God. I’m not sure that a checklist of to-dos in order to earn God’s favor would have been considered radical, crazy good news to a group of Jews and Gentiles, so I’m pretty sure this is not how Jesus intended us to take this text. Instead, I think the Beatitudes are a sort of radical manifesto about the nature of the kingdom of God.
This reading is greatly informed by the very first Beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Right away, you can’t read this as some sort of “to-do.” Why would you want to be poor in spirit? To be poor in spirit is to not get it, to doubt, to question, to feel far from God, to be, as The Message puts it “at the end of your rope.” This is not a desirable condition. Instead, this is a statement less about the one who is poor in spirit, and more a statement about the one handing out the blessing: God. It’s not a statement about earning or deserving God’s blessing, but a statement about a God of extravagant love who pours out blessings on even, and perhaps especially, those who do not deserve it. There is no why to the pouring out of God’s blessing. Ours is a God who likes to bless, choose, and use the people that we think don’t deserve it. This is good news. Our God loves to bless all the people who don’t deserve it, who screw up, who doubt, who don’t believe all the right things, who don’t do all the right things.
In this light, all the rest of these Beatitudes are not about what we must do to earn God’s blessing. The focus is not on the condition of the one being blessed, but on the nature of the one doing the blessing, and, by extension, the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus repeatedly announces is at hand. This might make us look at the rest of the list in a different way, and I’ll be going through all of them step by step, every day this week.