I've been dwelling a lot over the last few weeks on the Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, particularly the beatitudes. As you are likely aware, the beatitudes are those statements that Jesus gives that clearly and concisely define the character that the citizens of His Kingdom are to promote in themselves and others. They are found most fully in Matthew 5:3-10:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
By the reckoning of Jesus himself, the most blessed and happy people are those who are free from the control of possessions, are free form the pursuit of power, are willing to feel the pain of loss, are fervently seeking true justice for others while willingly mercy to them as well. They are not overwhelmed by guilt and shame, they desire to establish unity and peace, and they are willing to suffer at the hands of others in their pursuit of such a life.
When I think of this I am struck by how contrary it is to our default perspective of life. We so often see the preservation or amassing of wealth as a key to happiness, the wielding of power as a means of fulfillment, and the avoidance of emotional pain as the hallmark of joy and contentment. We too often seek vengeance and getting back at our perceived enemies rather than seeking actual justice, and we do so without a care for extending mercy upon those whom we think deserve our wrath. We allow ourselves, either by continual immoral acts or by our refusal to confess and receive forgiveness (and ultimately to forgive ourselves), to be wracked with feelings of guilt and shame. We are all-too-often the source of conflict and discord rather than ambassadors of peace. Then, when the dust settles, we fight tooth and nail to maintain the status quo that is expected of us by our peers so as to not feel persecuted or ostracized by them.
Notice how contrary the beatitudes are to our default perspective of life and to the examples that are so prevalent around us. For this reason, what Jesus is asking of us is something that is very difficult to achieve. In fact, it would be essentially impossible for us to do so of our own strength and without some example of one who has accomplished this. You see, Jesus is not asking us to submit to a list of do's and don’ts that we can use as a checklist to ensure we are following his standard, but rather He is asking us to completely transform the way we view ourselves and others. Thanks be to God, therefore, that Jesus has walked this path before us and He has provided us with the Holy Spirit to help us embrace this transformation in our whole self, body, soul, and spirit.
This is not an easy task, but it is the path that Christ laid before us by the example of His own life. The reward is great, though, for in walking this path we find true freedom and true fulfillment. We find true peace and true meaning. For only when we enter into the self-less course that is laid out by these Beatitudes do we truly attain to the fullness of what we were created to be as image bearers of the same God who walked in the cool of the Garden of Eden and wept in the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane.
(as published in St. Luke’s weekly newsletter, 01/16/19)