The Beatitudes: Life in God's Kingdom
Luke 6:17-26 Blessings and Woes 17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. 20 Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
The famous American author Mark Twain once said that it was not the parts of the New Testament that he couldn’t understand that gave him the most trouble, it was the parts that he could understand.
The beatitudes are like that.
The beatitudes. A few short sentences out of a five-minute message that is the best-known sermon in history. Beatitudes simply mean blessings. These were the blessings. They were part of a sermon that was so uncompromising, and so demanding, as to leave people gasping. In Matthew these words are recorded in the Sermon on the Mount. In Luke, we call them the sermon on the Plain. But wherever the Gospel writers recorded them, they were important enough to be recorded by both of them.
Jesus laid down the law very strongly in this sermon, and left people realising that they could not keep the law, if it was interpreted in this way. You would think that, compared to the rest, these statements of blessing would be the nicest, most comforting part of his sermon, but they are as challenging as anything Jesus ever said.
There are some non-Christian authors who find this part of the Sermon on the Mount so hard to deal with, that they claim it as proof that Jesus was mentally unbalanced, and not the messiah at all, but a madman. That is how hard they are for us to understand, or indeed, to live by.
Because they are the opposite of our world, of what normally works. What would society’s beatitudes be?
Blessed are they that make a fortune, for they will be happy.
Blessed are those who are in the upper class of society, for they will get to drive a BMW.
Blessed are the famous, because everyone wants to be like them.
But the meek? The poor in spirit? Who wants to be like them? That won’t work in the world, Jesus. We have to live here on this planet after all. We have to compete! Don’t we?
Jesus was not just outlining a code that works for those focussed on the next life, even though that was definitely a strong emphasis also.
For those in persecution, for those in slavery, heaven is home. Heaven is the one thread to grasp at to keep them going through a pathetic, painful life.
You only need to listen to some of the old African American spiritual songs to hear the longing for heaven, the deep yearning that was so strong that soon the singers would be fidgeting, because they were struck with the realisation that they were not yet there, and they wanted to be. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
But what Jesus was laying out before the eager listeners on the hillside, was something that they had never heard before. It was something that had breathtaking effects on this life, as well as the one to come. They were affirmations that to live like this, you didn’t need to be shut away in a monastery, or living in a cave. The meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, they are blessed RIGHT NOW.
An Indian Ascetic by the name of Mohandas Gandhi read of the Sermon on the Mount and put much of it into practice. He was able to effect massive changes in his country through non-violent protest. Years later a young minister called Martin Luther King Jr. studied Gandhi’s tactics, relating them back to the phrase Jesus used about peacemakers, and put them into place in the U.S.
Many African Americans left his cause because non-violence did not seem right to them when faced with such hatred, and they moved towards black power groups, and the idea of change through hate and strength. Non-violence doesn’t make much sense in the face of beatings by police, and snarling German shepherds, and bullets.
But King never wavered, and he never struck back. Finally, after a white sheriff set his armed policemen loose on unarmed black protesters on a bridge near Selma, Alabama, the American public became so outraged and ashamed about such violent injustice, that they finally agreed to a civil rights bill. The peacemakers were blessed. The meek, and those that did not fight back, inherited the kingdom that they wanted here on earth.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
The beatitudes are true. Such people are blessed. In the next life and for this one. Spend some time among the lowliest servants, ones who want no reward or fame for what they do, and you will realize how different they are from those whom the world calls blessed.
What about our sports stars, multi-millionaires and actors, musicians that we see in magazines. What is blessed about their lives? Hardly a movie-star stays married longer than five years. They have drug and alcohol problems. They are completely reliant on therapy and counseling. So many don’t know who their real friends are, and they live in constant fear of losing their spot on the “A” list.
Compare that to the fulfillment of a life like that of Mother Theresa, who went from teaching geography to the upper-class rich daughters of Calcutta, to tending to those whom the rest of society wouldn’t even touch.
And you tell me who is blessed.
When faced with the truth of the beatitudes, we often look at them the wrong way, and think that we must do these things in order to be blessed. But you can’t be poor in Spirit if you think you can do all of these things. You can’t think of how to be merciful, and a peacemaker, and pure in heart while you are mourning. The beatitudes are not a checklist of things to do, to be blessed, they are statements of truth.
The truth is, you can’t be poor in Spirit if you are proud of your achievements. You need to realize that you can do nothing, and throw yourself on God’s mercy.
The truth is, you can’t be a peacemaker if you think that you are always right.
The truth is, you can’t be meek, if you are trying to earn the earth. That is not the nature of an inheritance.
The truth is, there is only one place where we can see someone who was all these things., and that is on the cross of Golgotha. And strangely, he seems to be the most cursed person ever.
The meekest, poorest in spirit, yet merciful, mourning, pure in heart one, in the midst of all that, could be called BLEST?
Scripture says, cursed is the one who is hung on a tree. But the curse was ours, and now, we are blest because of the blessings that should have been his. The great swap, where we swap our curse for his blessings, our sin for his payment.
We are the community of the crucified. And we are blessed. In fact, not only blessed, but the Greek in this case means more like, oh you lucky people. You are to be envied.
We are indeed, for we are now sons and daughters of God. The blessings of God, almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are with us. Now and always. Amen.