Summary of the Text
Imagine Jesus at the beginning of his ministry: He calls his first disciples – the educated and advantaged? No. Some fishermen. He travels around his home region of Galilee proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease. His fame begins to spread. Large crowds start gathering from Galilee, Syria, Jerusalem, the 10 Roman cities of the Decapolis, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.
Every day the crowd grows larger and larger and larger. One day Jesus heads up one of the hills and sits down. This would have caught everyone’s attention. When a rabbi sits, he’s indicating a time of formal teaching. It’s unusual. He’s outside, not in the synagogue. Everyone gathers around and settles down, expectant, waiting. What are the first words out of his mouth?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
What??? Who in their right mind would look out over this massive crowd of broken, desperate, mourning, pain-ridden people and call them blessed? The kingdom of God couldn’t possibly be for the likes of these. Many rabbis were teaching all over the region that the reason you were hurting, broken, sick, or poor is because you weren’t right with God and God was punishing you.
Jesus says, “Nope. God loves you and welcomes you into the kingdom and you are blessed.”
Now imagine Jesus looking out over that crowd on the side of the hill and seeing all of humanity. Every person who ever lives. Imagine Jesus looking down the hillside and down through the ages to right now, seeing me and seeing you.
We may have access to better medical care and clean water, we may have freedom, education, and technology. But deep down, Jesus sees us and our brokenness and our pain. We are those people on the mountain. We are loved, welcomed, and blessed, too.
The Beatitudes Reveal the Journey of Faith
The first two Beatitudes focus on recognizing our need of God. We are spiritual beggars. We mourn our sin, shame, guilt, and brokenness. We need God’s gift of forgiveness and new life.
The second two Beatitudes are about recognizing our strengths. We are gifted and powerful. We give back to God what we’ve been given, placing it under the authority and discipline of God. (Meekness does not mean doormat.) We recognize our hungers, thirsts, passion, fire, appetites and ask God to focus all of that good energy into building right relationships with God, others, ourselves, and the earth.
The first two Beatitudes are about bowing in humility to God. The next two Beatitudes are about standing in the truth of who God made us. In the first two Beatitudes, we recognize we’re dust and ashes. In the next two, we claim we’re fearfully and wonderfully made.
The first four Beatitudes prepare us inwardly for the last four Beatitudes, so we’re in the right soul place to join Jesus in the adventure of saving the world.
The next two Beatitudes remind us to stay self-aware as we serve. Am I forcing or threatening? Am I weaponizing my power or position? What’s the motivation behind my words and actions? Are they pure? Am I seeking the way and will of Jesus or do I have divided loyalty?
The last two Beatitudes focus on joining Jesus in his ultimate goal, and the cost of that loyalty. We join Jesus in making peace, in making Shalom. We seek the well-being of all creation. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness, the right relationship of everything. The well-being of persons, the earth, just and fair systems, governments working for the best interest of all people.
Jesus raises us to be liberators and prophets. Jesus raises us up to be like him in his power to heal. Jesus raises us and readies us for the persecution when it comes.
When we start practicing mercy, peacemaking, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, our lives are going to look different, and people are going to notice. Not all that notice is going to be positive. Following Jesus brings resurrection and new life. It also brings suffering and sacrifice. The Beatitudes are honest enough to admit it.
Lisa Degrenia is an ordained pastor currently serving Coronador Community United Methodist Church. Lisa studied at the University of South Florida and received her Masters of Divinity from Duke Divinity School. She’s served congregations in Largo, St. Petersburg, DeBary, and Sarasota.
In addition to serving as a pastor, Lisa enjoys leading retreats, photography, theatre, travel, and writing. She is indebted to the many wonderful mentors and teachers in her life, including her mother who first gave her a love for words.
Lisa met her beloved husband Ed on a trip to NYC and they were married ten months later. They are blessed with two grown daughters, two sons-in-love, one new grandchild, and two dogs. You can find more of her work at https://revlisad.com/.
The Beatitudes are such a short text — eight of them and only ten verses long. “Blessed” is the most repeated word in the most familiar English translation. What does it mean? To find out, let’s look at the oldest text of the Gospels in the Greek New Testament. Here the key word at the start of each Beatitude is makarios….
How might we translate the word makarios in a way that makes its meaning clearer? I suggest “free from the fear of death” or, even simpler, “risen from the dead.” To the extent we follow Christ we become people whose choices are not driven by fear and death. Thus we can say:
Risen from the dead are the poor in spirit…
Risen from the dead are they who mourn…
Risen from the dead are the meek…
Risen from the dead are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness…
Risen from the dead are the merciful…
Risen from the dead are the pure of heart…
Risen from the dead are the peacemakers…
Risen from the dead are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake…
Jim Forest in his blog post Climbing the Ladder of the Beatitudes
Climbing the Beatitudes
Jim Forest’s wonderful book, The Ladder of the Beatitudes, was inspired by a beautiful, sacred painting from the late 1100s entitled The Ladder of Divine Ascent. It’s a painting of monks climbing a ladder towards Jesus in heaven, illustrating the journey of faith.
In the top left corner of the painting, angels are cheering and praying for the monks as they climb. In the bottom right corner, the faithful on earth are doing the same.
Around the ladder, shadowy demons try to pull and tempt the monks to misstep and fall off the ladder. At the bottom of the painting is the face of the devil- big, blue, cold – eating one of the monks who’s fallen.
Jim Forest sees this painting and makes a connection to the Beatitudes. We climb the Beatitudes, one after another. Climbing the Beatitudes brings us closer and closer to being like Jesus, seeing things like Jesus, and following him in his saving work. The Beatitudes are the natural progression of a faithful life.