What are the beatitudes?

Matthew 5:1-12

Imagine a baby born into a loving, wealthy and privileged family. She needs feeding or changing and she is totally distraught. But as you look at this very unhappy baby, you can say of her, 'What a blessed child'. Why? Because even though she is unhappy now, you know who she is and what the future holds for her.

Today we look at what it means to be truly blessed. These verses are called the beatitudes, which translated from the Latin means happy or blessed. And what they say is surprising. It's a bit like our crying baby.

When you are poor in Spirit - when you don't believe in yourself because you know yourself, when you throw yourself on God, you may, at times, feel miserable, churned up and out of your depth, but you are blessed. Why? Because there is a place for you in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

When you mourn - when you grieve the loss of people or things that you held on to, that were so precious to you, that gave you your identity and your hope - you may be utterly empty and hopeless and crushed - but you are blessed. Why? Because you will be comforted, not with some false platitude, but with a real comfort.

When you are meek. Yes, we are talking doormat stuff here. When you allow others to walk over you, when you don't assert your rights: you may be despised by others; you may be treated as 'the scum of the earth; the garbage of the world' (1 Cor 4:13), but you will be blessed. Why? Because you will, on the resurrection day, inherit the earth.

When you hunger and thirst for righteousness. I note 'hunger and thirst'. This is something that you are desperate for. We don't think of people who hunger and thirst for anything as blessed; we think of people who have what they want as blessed. But Jesus says that if we hunger and thirst for righteousness (being in a right relationship with God, so that we think in the right way and live in the right way), then you are blessed. Why? Because you will, in the end, receive what you most desire.

When you show mercy to others - even to those who hate you, or who have tried to harm you - the world may say you are a fool, you are weak, but you are blessed because you will, in turn, receive mercy.

When you are pure in heart. I think of this as having a 'good heart', a good disposition. When you are transparent - like an onion and not like an orange (when you peel one layer of an onion off, you find the same thing all the way through) - so that what is on the outside is what is on the inside. Or, to use an illustration that some of the early church writers used, when you are like a totally pure mirror which reflects the likeness of Jesus and the glory of God, you are blessed. Why? Because you will see God. (cf 1 John 3:2)

When you are peace-maker: someone who makes peace between people and God, between people and people, between people and creation, it means that you will not get what you want here and now; it may even mean you get crucified like Jesus (peace-makers usually get crucified), but you will be blessed. Why? Because you are like Jesus who made peace between all things in creation and God, and you will be called a child of God. 

When you are persecuted, rejected because you choose to do what is right in God's eyes; when you are ridiculed or abused because you follow Jesus. In many countries Christians face terrifying persecution; in the West, where there is opposition, it is still usually just mockery. But for the first time for many centuries in our own country, Christians are identified in the media as 'them' rather than 'us'. It is then that Jesus says, 'You are blessed'. Why? Because that is what happened to the men and women of God in the past, and you are listed among them, and great is your reward in heaven.

In the Orthodox church these verses, the beatitudes, are read on most Sundays in ordinary time. They remind us, as believers, of how we are called to live now, and of what we are to expect now. At times it will be hard and painful and we will not be happy. But they also remind us that we are blessed because of our destiny, because of what lies ahead.


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