Summary: The beatitudes: 1. Are often misinterpreted. 2. Help us to be like God. 3. Are not promises for the present, but guarantees of our future.
We Are Blessed
Blessed are those who have gone through a divorce.
Blessed are those who cannot pay their bills and may be facing bankruptcy.
Blessed are those who have just heard that they have a terminal illness.
Blessed are you when you have been fired from your job.
Blessed are you when your friends desert you and betray you.
Blessed are you when a family member has died.
Blessed are you when life has beaten you down.
Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.
The kind of reaction you are having now is very close to what the people hearing Jesus originally speak the beatitudes had. You were probably thinking, “Are you nuts? I’m going through that right now and I can tell you that it is not a place of blessing.”
Actually the things I just listed get very close to the real idea of the beatitudes. Jesus meant for them to be shocking – even confusing. Jesus meant for his words to be totally the opposite of how we usually think. He wanted to rattle their brains so they would begin to think. He wanted to empty their minds of how they were used to thinking and begin thinking in a new way – the Kingdom way. The beatitudes run counter to culture and common sense.
Luke’s gospel puts the beatitudes in a different form and turns some of them around:
“Blessed are you who are poor (not poor in spirit),
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now (not hungry for righteousness),
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven...
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
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.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”
At question here is: What is really the good life? And, more importantly, how do we live as God’s people in the Kingdom?
1. There have been many misinterpretations of what the beatitudes mean.
I have heard people say:
These are the “Be-attitudes”, they are the way we should be and the attitudes we should have.
Others have called them the “Be Happy Attitudes”. Okay, but how can you be happy while you are mourning, poor, or persecuted? It is wrong to think of the Beatitudes as something positive that you should strive to be, and if you do you will be rewarded. This is not what Jesus was saying.
These are not commandments for us to obey, neither are they attitudes for us to adopt, they are statements of fact that we need to believe. These sayings were ripped from the everyday lives of Jesus’ listeners. And what Jesus was saying was radical: Don’t worry that you are poor, because a new world is coming and eternal riches will be yours. Even though you are beaten down by life, God will lift you up. The kingdom of heaven is yours. Even though you are mourning your loss of health or loved ones, there is a God who is with you, he suffers with you, and one day he will do away with suffering and wipe every tear away. Even though you are oppressed because you are not a powerful personality, and the world takes advantage of that and runs over you, one day you will inherit the earth. Even though you are persecuted, treated unfairly and blamed wrongly, you are part of a long history of others who have suffered in the same way — not to mention Jesus himself. You have been given the kingdom, and your reward is coming.
Many treat the beatitudes as though Jesus was giving us commandments to be this way. As though we should seek to be poor, poor in spirit or humble. We should be mourning because of the state of the world, willing to be meek and mild, or even desire to be persecuted.
During the great persecution of the early church, many took this so literally that they deliberately did things that would lead to their death at the hand of Rome, or even turn themselves in as Christians, knowing they would be martyred.
But these are not stated in the imperative mood (commands), but rather the indicative mood (simple statements of fact).
2. The beatitudes are important because they show us what God is like.