Summary: A look at the Beatitudes and how an understanding of the Kingdom of God, present and future, helps us to face the difficulties of life.
Mary Lewis tells this story: “Alexander M. Sanders, Jr., is the Chief Judge of the South Carolina Court of Appeals. When his daughter Zoe graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1992, he told this story that happened when she was just three years old. Sanders came home from work one day to find his home — and especially his young daughter — in a state of turmoil. Zoe’s pet turtle had died, and she was crying as if her heart would break. Zoe’s mother had been dealing with the situation all day and declared that it was now Dad’s turn to try and make things better. Although he was successful both as a lawyer and a politician, who confidently faced all kinds of complex issues and problems every day, this seemed out of his league. The mysteries of life and death are difficult, if not impossible for the mature mind to fathom. The task of explaining them to a three-year-old was completely beyond either his confidence or experience. But he tried. First, he told Zoe that they could go to the pet store and buy another one just like the one who had died. Even at three years old, Zoe was smart enough to know that a turtle is not a toy. There’s really no such thing as getting another one just like the one who died. And so Zoe’s tears continued. Desperate to quiet his little girl’s tears, he said, ‘I tell you what, we’ll have a funeral for the turtle.’ Being three years old, she didn’t know what a funeral was. Scrambling to come up with an explanation — as well as something that would get her mind off the turtle’s demise, he said, ‘A funeral is like a birthday party. We’ll have ice cream and cake and lemonade and balloons, and all the children in the neighborhood will come over to our house to play. All because the turtle died.’ Well, the prospect of a turtle funeral did the trick. Instantly, Zoe was her happy, smiling self. The turtle’s death was no longer cause for tears, but reason to rejoice So, with visions of cake and ice cream in their heads the two beamed down on the deceased turtle lying at their feet. As they did, the turtle began to move. And a few seconds later, he was crawling away as lively as — well, as lively as a turtle, but an undeniably LIVE turtle. Then an even stranger thing happened. Sanders — a politician and a lawyer — was speechless. Zoe had no such problem. After considering her options, she looked up at her father with her big beautiful eyes and — with all the innocence of her tender years — she said quietly, ‘Daddy, Let’s kill it.’”
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted
Zoe’s solution may have been a little off center, but her conclusion was right on. She understood from her father that he was going to make everything all right; that her mourning would be turned to joy; that a celebration of laughter would make her forget her tears. Our Father is telling us the same thing: He is going to make everything all right and restore our fortunes; our mourning will be turned to joy, and a celebration of laughter, greater than anything we could ever imagine, will make us forget all the sorrows we have experienced.
The message of the beatitudes is the message that the kingdom of God has overcome the kingdom of this world. A day of ultimate justice is coming when our Father will heal the wounds of our hearts and fill us with inexpressible joy. Isaiah prophesied of the day when the people of God “will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:10). Isaiah said that God’s purpose for his people was, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:2-3). The message of Jesus in the beatitudes is that heaven will more than make up for any wrongs we have had to endure here. Are you poor? You will inherit the kingdom of God Are you hungry now? You will be satisfied Are you weeping now? You will laugh Are you being persecuted? Leap for joy, because you have a reward coming
I have to confess that for years I misunderstood and misinterpreted the beatitudes. I saw them as imperatives, that is, commandments — attitudes of the heart that Christians should acquire. I preached that we should be poor in spirit, hungry for righteousness, mournful over our sin, etc. But Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon in their book Resident Aliens remind us that the beatitudes are not imperatives, they are indicatives. These are not new rules of morality that Jesus is commanding us to follow. These are simple statements of how life sometimes is. Living in this world we are sometimes poor, if not materially, we are poor in spirit — humiliated, shamed, rejected, downcast. We are often hungry, if not for food, for reality, for the reign of justice and righteousness. We often weep, over our own condition and the condition of our families, as well as the rest of the human race. But all of that is going to change. We are looking forward to a new day. Peter wrote: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:10-13).