The Beatitudes

18 Jan

Working through the beatitudes today for a talk sometime in April. Here are the Beatitudes and some thoughts on the Beatitudes by N.T. Wright:

Matthew 5:3″Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed 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. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

NT Wright
“Jesus is not suggesting that [the Beatitudes] are simply timeless truths about the way the world is, about human behavior. If he was saying that, he is wrong. Mourners often go uncomforted, the meek don’t inherit the earth, those who long for justice often take that longing to the grave. This is an upside-down world, or perhaps a right-way-up world; and Jesus is saying that with his work its starting to come true. This is an announcement, not a philosophical analysis of the world. It’s about something that’s starting to happen, not about a general truth of life. It is gospel: good news, not good advice.

Follow me, Jesus said to the first disciples; because in him the living God was doing a new thing, and this list of ‘wonderful news’ is part of his invitation, part of his summons, part of his way of saying that God is at work in a fresh way and that this is what it looks like. Jesus is beginning a new era for God’s people and God’s world. From here on, all the controls people thought they knew about are going to work the other way round. In our world, still, most people think that wonderful news consists of success, wealth, long life, victory in battle. Jesus is offering wonderful news for the humble, the poor, the mourners, the peacemakers.

The world for ‘wonderful news’ is often translated ‘blessed,’ and part of the point is that this is God’s wonderful news. God is acting in and through Jesus to turn the world upside down, to turn Israel upside down, to pour out lavish ‘blessings’ on all who now turn to him and accept the new thing that he is doing. But the point is not to offer a list of what sort of people God normally blesses. The point is to announce God’s new covenant.

In Deuteronomy, the people came through the wilderness and arrived at the border of the promised land, and God gave them a solemn covenant. He listed the blessings and curses that would come if they were obedient or disobedient. Now Matthew has shown us Jesus, coming out of Egypt, through the water and the wilderness, and into the land of promise. Here, now, is his new covenant.

So when do these promises come true? There is a great temptation for Christians to answer: in heaven, after death. At first sight, verses 3, 10 and 11 seem to say this: ‘the kingdom of heaven’ belongs to the poor in spirit and the persecuted, and there’s a great reward in heaven for those who suffer persecution for Jesus’ sake. That, though, is a misunderstanding of the meaning of ‘heaven.’ Heaven is God’s space, where full reality exists, close by our ordinary (‘earthly’) reality and interlocking with it. One day heaven and earth will be joined together forever, and the true state of affairs, at present out of sight, will be unveiled. After all, verse 5 says that the meek will inherit the earth, and that can hardly happen in a disembodied heaven after death.

No: the clue comes in the next chapter, in the prayer Jesus taught his followers. We are to pray that God’s kingdom will come, and God’s will be done, ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ The life of heaven–the life of the realm where God is already king–is to become the life of the world, transforming the present ‘earth’ into a place of beauty and delight that God always intended. And those who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now. That’s the point of the Sermon on the Mount, and these ‘beatitudes’ in particular. They are a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future; because that future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth. It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring, that it it in fact the right way up. Try it and see.”

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One Response to “The Beatitudes”

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  1. Matthew 5 « Rob’s Blog - February 5, 2010

    […] of Matthew one chapter a day offering a thought, quote, prayer. This is round two. Round one is here. Should be teaching on Matthew 5 sometime after […]

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