Matthew chapter 5 is the start of the most known sermons of Jesus. Along with other passages like the Ten Commandments or Romans 12, we in some way receive a list of what a Christian is supposed to look like or at least become. When we approach the start of this wonderful sermon it begins with a list of those who are “blessed”:
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the pure
Blessed are the peacemakers
Blessed are the persecuted
I’m sure many of us have read these time and time again and thought, “okay, but how?” How do I become these “virtues” to earn the blessing that comes from being them? Some of these qualities, especially as an American don’t sound very attainable or necessarily enjoyable. I feel as though we can either run ourselves into the ground trying to become them or begin to become self-righteous embodying them.
Allow me to re-write a few of the beatitudes for how we would assume they should be written in our particular context:
Blessed are the rich
Blessed are the strong
Blessed are the educated
Blessed are the sophisticated
Blessed are the popular
Now, that sounds like a list that we could get behind, however, the issue is the beatitudes are not a list of virtues to obtain, but an invitation to receive.
The key to this is found in those whom Jesus is talking to. In chapter 4, Jesus is preaching the gospel, healing the sick, the demon-possessed, those suffering severe pain, and they begin to follow him (v.23-25). This is who Jesus is addressing from atop a hill—the outcast, the spiritually and financially poor, those who don’t have it all together. Theologian Dallas Willard listed these as “the spiritual zeros—the spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of religion” and yet, King Jesus has touched them. They have no qualifications to receive, no education, no money, they “don’t know their bibles”, there is nothing in them to suggest they should receive any blessing, and yet, they have received the kingdom of God.
I know what you’re thinking, this still doesn’t help me, in fact, it’s a little worse. I can’t be those things, I can’t become those things, it isn’t possible for me. Like I said before, these are not virtues to embody but an invitation to receive. If we spend time working to become these “things” we shift our thinking from a grace-filled gospel to a works-based gospel. Willard would go on to say, “the Beatitudes, in particular, are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God or good for human beings. No one is actually being told that they are better off for being poor, for mourning, for being persecuted, and so on, or that the conditions listed are recommended ways to well-being before God. They are explanations and illustrations, drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus.”
This is good news for us. Knowing these are not a set of how-tos reminds us that the kingdom of God is available for all of us, even when we don’t have it all together.
Are you spiritually empty?
Are you weary?
Are you weak?
Are you mournful for your sin and the sin of those around you?
Do you not have much if anything to give?
Welcome to the Kingdom of God.