Text: Matt. 5:1-12
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Everyone loves the Beatitudes, don’t they? My guess is that at least several of us have some of them memorized to some degree or another. We all have one of those states that we would like to find ourselves in: merciful, pure of heart, peacemakers, so on. Even the title of these passages, the Beatitudes, sounds—well, beautiful. It’s a borrowed word from Old French meaning “supreme happiness,” grown out of its Latin root word, meaning “state of blessedness.”
But have you stopped to really weigh the Beatitudes? “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Really? Is that a state that anyone would want to find themselves in—poor in anything? Or try telling someone who’s just said goodbye to a loved one in a hospital room, “Blessed are those who mourn,” and see if they feel like they agree in that moment of mourning. Blessed are the meek, those who are humble, quiet, keep to themselves when others are grabbing what they want—has anyone taught their children that being reserved, lowly, and meek is the way to get ahead in this world? And these are all before we get to the big ones that we quietly disagree with Jesus about: “Blessed are you when others revile you, when they despise you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad!” Who of us has ever, a single time, considered that position to be one we would call blessed?
No, we think, that’s not how it is in the real world at all. We don’t say, “I’m blessed,” when we’re poor in in anything, let alone with a downtrodden bankrupt spirit. We say it when someone is rich in something, when they’re overflowing with good, nice things. And the meek, those who speak softly, who never push to the front of the line, who don’t defend themselves, well, we know that’s not how anyone gets ahead. It’s the bold, the courageous, the self-made men who inherit this earth. And the pure in heart—well, we might think it sounds nice, but we all know that it takes a little cunning; not naïve innocence—that’s how we get all these things that we call blessings. But the real doozy, to rejoice over being reviled and persecuted and spoken of evilly falsely—well we know that’s not true. We would say, “Blessed are those who fight back, who make others face the truth. Blessed are those who win their legal battles and embarrass their slanderers. Blessed are those who win elections and defeat those revilers and persecutors and slanderers.”
And yet, the Beatitudes—Jesus’ own words—stand there, simple, clear, unbothered by our disagreements with them, untarnished by the 2000 years of empires and kingdoms and democracies rising and falling. The Beatitudes have outlived all those other things that people have called “blessed.” And that should be a cue to us that maybe we need to shift our thinking on what exactly it is to be blessed, as Jesus means it.
When we think about the Beatitudes and their profound, if surprising, words of blessing, we should start by thinking about the One who spoke them. These words were spoken, in the Sermon on the Mount, by Jesus Christ Himself. This is the same Jesus who was born in a stable, who had the murderous Herod seeking His death when He was only a child. This is the same Jesus who was a wandering rabbi and carpenter, going from town to town, without a place to lay His head that He could call His own. This is the same Jesus who lived off the generosity and charity of those who gave of the their own money to feed and shelter and clothe Him and His disciples. So when we consider the Beatitudes, we’re actually considering Jesus. Just like the One who spoke them, the Beatitudes appear one way on the surface: poor, mournful, humble, hungry and thirsty, persecuted, reviled. The Beatitudes look this way on the surface because the Lord who spoke them looked this way. And yet, in spite of appearances, we know that our Lord Jesus was infinitely blessed.
For it has always been our God’s way to hide things under their opposites. He hides His infinite Son, through whom the heavens and earth were made, in an infant’s flesh and blood in a manger in Bethlehem. He hides His perfect wisdom in a roving preacher going throughout Galilee. He hides eternal life under the death of the cross. He hides forgiveness, life, and salvation—He hides His true body and blood—under something as simple and unimpressive as bread and wine. And we know all of these things because He, the all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good Son of God, has told us these things in the flesh, through our own mortal words.
These things, including the Beatitudes, will never make sense to our fallen reason and our demanding senses. These blessings will never be enough for a fallen world that demands everything it wants be set before it immediately. But we who see the One speaking, we who see Him by faith, know the truth. We may look poor in spirit, deprived, broke, empty—but we have the infinite riches of Jesus’ life and death hidden away in us, like gold tucked into jars of clay. We may look mournful, as we confess our sins, as we grieve our losses; but we do not grieve as those do who have no hope. We mourn, knowing that we will be comforted when Jesus resurrects these loved ones from the dead and awakens us all to life everlasting. We aren’t afraid to be meek, to be humble and lowly, putting others ahead of us; because we know that we will inherit the earth—the new, re-created earth—when the Son of Man returns. We can be merciful to our enemies, to those we know will turn around and attack us again, because we have had mercy shown to us, time and time again as God forgave us when we committed the same sins over and over. We can be pure in heart, we can be peacemakers, even when the world mocks us for being naïve, for not getting the last word in, for not destroying our opponents. And yes, we can even see that we are blessed when we are persecuted, reviled, and hated by a world that’s constantly running from God, slandered falsely by those who hate what they think our faith stands for. We can know that in that hurricane, we’re still blessed. We can even be glad, for so the world persecuted the prophets who were before us. But we who have received the words of the prophets, who have believed in the One they pointed to all along, we will receive a prophet’s reward—eternal life and peace in the presence of God.
The Beatitudes are more challenging than they appear at first, but that’s only because we need to be refocused on what they’re really talking about. And what the Beatitudes talk about is what all of Scripture talks about: it speaks of Jesus, who was all of these things, perfectly, for us. He has been every one of these things and He has done it so that those blessings would become ours. So rejoice in your reward, forgiven Christians. Be glad in what you have inherited from your Lord, who also is much more than what our eyes can see on the surface. In the name of Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh. Amen.