Summary: Life Context Response
Life Context Response to
The Gospel of Matthew 5:3-12
By Kent Wise
This pericope of scripture has captured my attention from my first reading at an early age. I come from a very traditional and conservative background where prosperity, wealth, and power were emphasized from my earliest memories. The majority of my life, thirty years, was spent working for the attainment of these. Each of these characteristics is a measure of success and well being within the white European community. An individual who does not achieve prosperity, wealth, and power is considered to be lazy, of little account, and weak.
Therefore, the words of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew created a dilemma for me. Many questions surrounded the blessings of God and how they impacted me, a southern white, autocratic individual. For example, how can I be blessed when I am poor? How can I be blessed when I am meek? Several other questions exist and will be expounded upon in the body of this response. Each statement that Jesus makes struck at the very core of my belief and value system. Each statement was counter to the image of God as viewed by Christians of European ancestry. Afterall, our God, our Jesus, was not poor, weak, or timid. He was and is mighty, fearless and strong.
Problematic Views Raising Problematic Questions
Most scholars agree that the Beatitudes are divided into two sections of four descriptive sentences. Each of these sentences begins with the words, “Blessed are…” Each of us cherishes the thought of being blessed from God. As Christians, our lives are to be lived to be a blessing to others so that we may receive God’s blessing. However, in the Matthean text we encounter a very problematic teaching which is very counter culture to what we have been taught. Let us look at the eight statements and how they impact my personal views of culture and the world.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”- Today, an individual’s success is often determined by the financial resources they have attained. The world holds someone with wealth as a person of high regard. Jesus’ statement counters this view by announcing blessings upon those who society would not deem successful. This “blessings” statement is very liberating for many today as God’s blessing is attainable for the poor, the hurting, and the unsuccessful. God’s blessing surpasses any attainable level of worldly wealth by attributing a spiritual characteristic to wealth with the prize of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted” – Mourning or longing for something is an action that will lead to the expectation of something great. Jesus uses this language, I believe, to illustrate that a relationship with the Heavenly Father is something to be longed. It is through this relationship that comfort is achieved and the depth of God’s love is realized.
“Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” – Again, the language used by Jesus is counter culture. Power is sought after by many today. Power is attained often times through acts that negatively affect others. Here, Jesus is placing emphasis not on being weak, but rather by being strong. However, the strength is attained by not being self-centered but rather by being others-centered. Strength comes from serving others. Strength comes from letting God be the guide.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.” – What does it mean to hunger and thirst for something? Hunger and thirst are two innate senses that we all have. Both of these senses must be taken care of in order for life to continue. Our spiritual life too must be continually fed and watered to grow. It is in the feeding of our spiritualness that we grow closer to God. Notice the active tense of the verbs hunger and thirst. This suggests that our spiritual well-being is something we must seek to fill while expecting God to fulfill our needs.
“Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” – Another term for mercy is forgiveness. In order for me to experience forgiveness in my life, I must forgive. Mercy and forgiveness are two characteristics of someone who is Christ-like. For without these gifts, death would still be victorious over us. However, because of the gift of God’s forgiveness, we have the promise of eternal life.
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” – Sin separates us from God. In order to see God, we must live a life free from sin. God’s grace and the forgiveness of sin come from Jesus Christ.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” – This is one statement that I struggle with continuously. With a military background, my question is what is a peacemaker? Is it a pacifist? Or, is it someone who fights for justice and freedom? Or, is it someone who simply agrees with everything and never questions or enforces accountability? The dilemma occurs due to our definition of peacemaker. Was Jesus a peacemaker? If so, then why was he crucified? If so, why do we today view Jesus as a rebel? Can a peacemaker be counterculture? Finally, could the author of the text be talking about spiritual peace? Spiritual peace is attainable through a relationship with God. Paul attributes peace as being one of the fruits of the Spirit.