The Beatitudes are found in their fullest form at the beginning of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in Matthew 5:3-11.
A Beatitude is “an exclamation of the inner joy and peace that comes with being right with God. Happiness may indeed be a part of it; but it is a happiness that transcends what happens in the world around us, a happiness that comes to the soul from being favored by God.” – Dr. Allen Ross
“The sermon begins with the beatitudes. These qualities give a picture of the character of the true people of God, those who are a part of his kingdom and have the full blessings of the kingdom to look forward to. Taken together they give the picture of the perfect disciple of Christ who is the heir of the promises. Jesus does not here tell people how to become like this; that will come in subsequent teachings.” – Dr. Allen Ross
Susan Mansfield makes an interesting observation when she writes, “If the Beatitudes can speak to us in any age, they can speak to us now in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.”
Henri Nouwen, author of Living the Beatitudes, writes that ‘every one of the eight Beatitudes that Jesus proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount are for all people and for all times,’ but that some will strike us more than others depending on our circumstances. We should read the beatitudes and consider which ones most apply to our own lives and how. If the beatitudes can speak to us in all circumstances, then that includes now.
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-11, NIV
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT
People who are “poor in spirit” are those who are humble before God. They have humbled themselves and repented with deep contrition; and they have come to the king as helpless and hopeless sinners. There is no arrogance in them, no self-righteousness, no self-sufficiency. They are free from their own pretensions, and therefore they are free for God.
We may feel poor in spirit during this virus season. “Every news bulletin seems to bring fresh fears, for ourselves, for our loved ones, our country, our world.” Being poor in spirit during a pandemic means coming to God without pride or arrogance to seek His help and mercy. The kingdom of heaven is given to those who humbly seek God in all situations of life.
In his book on the Spiritual Exercises, The Gift of Spiritual Intimacy, Monty Williams writes that the first Beatitude is a key to unlocking the others. “Poverty of spirit is the radical awareness of our nothingness and of our dependence on Divine Providence for health, approval, image, identity, friendship, even life itself.” COVID-19 is giving us a taste of that.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN
No doubt we are in a time of mourning – we have suffered losses. Primarily, just the loss of our normal lives. To be able to get up and go to work, take the kids to school, meet friends and visit family. The loss of being able to take a walk down the street without having to worry about social distancing. “We are mourning for the holiday we’ve had to cancel, the concert we had been looking forward to, the graduation which is now postponed, the Easter celebrations which were muted.” Of course there are people who are mourning losses. Over 2,000 people have died because of this COVID-19 pandemic. Those are 2,000 grieving families and friends.
God promises that we will be comforted. We hang on in faith, knowing that God is a great provider and promise keeper. This tells us that our mourning won’t last forever. It also recognizes that our mourning is a reality, though, and God acknowledges our pain.
BLESSED ARE THE MEEK
In the Bible the meek are those who have a spirit of gentleness and self-control; they are free from malice and a condescending spirit. We should cultivate the spirit of meekness because it helps us align with the will of God, rather than seeking our own path. When we are under pressure we can speak and act in ways that are not our best selves. It is important for us to keep in mind that a spirit of gentleness and self-control is especially needed when there are so many things happening now that can make us irritable, fearful, or self-seeking.
The meek will inherit the earth … this seems to be a promise relating to the time when Jesus returns and the regeneration of all things. God values the qualities of gentleness and self-control and rewards them with the promise of eternal life.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HUNGER AND THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for a right way to live in this situation, to learn what it has to teach us. The closer one lives to the Lord, the more sensitive he or she becomes to the unrighteousness and injustice in the world. The truly spiritual person then will begin to long for righteousness. There is a sense here that we want to live a life that honors God, and another sense that says we want to live a life that honors God’s love for others.
Right now we can fall into a consumeristic spirit that seeks to hoard items and scramble to accumulate things we feel might not be available later. If we could harness that kind of hunger and thirst for the life God calls us to, it would be amazing.
BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL
Showing mercy to others includes both the forgiveness of the sinner and compassion for the suffering and the needy. They are called blessed because they place showing mercy above their own rights; they take no hostile stand against people in need, but try to show kindness to others and heal wounds. It is not that they are merciful by nature, but because they have been shown mercy and live in constant dependence on the Lord.
Blessed are the merciful, who go on managing to help others when fear drives us all towards isolation.
Blessed are those who continue to treat others with integrity and kindness when so much of the world is preoccupied with self-interest.
Blessed are those who bring peace into situations where tensions mount. The merciful will receive mercy from God. He values this quality highly.
BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART
To be pure in heart means that the decisions one makes, the desires one has, the thoughts and intentions of the will, are determined to be pleasing to God. From the pure of heart come only good things, acts of love and mercy, desires for righteousness and justice, decisions that please God.
We would do well to remember that the same insecurities we are now experiencing—over our wellbeing, regular income, access to healthcare and well-stocked shops—are some people’s reality, all the time.
How does one gain a pure heart? It begins with conversion when God gives us a “new heart,” and it continues through the spiritual growth as we follow Christ. Walking in the light, meaning learning to live by the word of God, will change the way we think so that our hearts will grow more and more pure. But as the light of the word reveals impurities, we must deal with them and change.
The pure in heart will see God – as they live out the Jesus-Life they will see God at work in their own life and in the lives of others.
BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS
In the human race there is strife and conflict with little hope for peace and unity.
Peace begins with reconciliation with God and extends to reconciliation with other people.
Peacemakers work to promote the kingdom of God, reconciling adversaries, quenching hatred, uniting those who are divided, promoting true understanding and spiritual love.
And the promise is that they shall be called the sons of God. That means they will be true children of God. This adds to what life will be like in the kingdom–possession of land, stilling of hunger, vision of God, and now sonship. And all these begin when people enter the kingdom by faith, but will be fulfilled completely when the kingdom finally comes.
We are at unrest with this virus – it has taken up space in our lives and caused difficulties, struggles, and adjustments.
The Christian should seek to find peace with God’s help and also to help others find peace of mind and heart. They will be called children of God because this is God’s work.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO ARE PERSECUTED
Living for Christ in a normal time brings it’s own backlash from unbelievers and those who disagree with the Scriptures. But in a time of pandemic, all emotions are on edge. Some even blame God for the virus, or at least for not stopping it. Christians can experience some harshness but we should always remember the previous beatitudes about peace, mercy, and meekness in our interactions with others. Even when we do our best, some will find reason to criticize or speak badly of us.
That’s not nearly as bad as the persecutions Christians have suffered over the centuries (or even today in places like China or the Sudan). But whenever we are looked down upon for our faith, it is a challenge.
Living for Christ in this world, living the way members of the kingdom should live, championing righteousness and justice, showing mercy, remaining meek and poor in spirit–all the things that the beatitudes praise. But they should know that genuine righteousness is offensive to many, and so they will be prepared for opposition.
N. T. Wright says, “Jesus is not suggesting that these are simply timeless truths about the way the world is. If he was saying that, he was wrong. Mourners often go uncomforted, and those who long for justice frequently take that longing to the grave. Jesus is saying that with his work these things start to come true. This is an announcement … an announcement of wonderful news.”
The Beatitudes will give us a framework for our:
- Relationship with God
- Relationship with other Christians
- Relationship with the world
As Allen Ross says, the beatitudes present “a happiness that comes to the soul from being favored by God.”
Ross, Allen. The Beatitudes
Wright, N. T. For Everyone Study Guides: Matthew.