This is a pretty familiar passage. The passage is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount because Jesus was on a mountain or hill when He gave the sermon. The “Blessed are you” are called the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes can be difficult to interpret because it is hard to understand what blessedness is in the some of these situations. It can also be difficult to understand the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven is in these situations.
When I’m having a difficult time understanding a text or want a new perspective, I will turn to a different translation. I usually use the New Revised Standard Version or the New International Version. I think many of you have study Bibles of the New International Version. Looking for a new perspective on the Beatitudes, I turned to The Message interpretation of the text. I want to read the text to you from The Message.
5 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
The Message does a good job of interpreting this Scripture. I call it an interpretation rather than a translation because the writers didn’t translate the Greek manuscripts into English. They tried to present the Scriptures in modern language with a contemporary understanding. In this text, the writers offer something that is easier to understand than the English translations.
The English translations can leave us believing that we will be blessed to go to Heaven if we face suffering in our lives like grieving or trying to keep the peace or being poor. The English translations tell us we will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, will see God, and be God’s children. The Message presents us with a way we can understand the Kingdom of Heaven here and now. For each situation we are told how we will experience God’s care. We will be strengthened by God, cared for by God, fed by God, and be part of God’s family.
For the Gospel writer Matthew, he takes seriously Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. The Kingdom is not an up-there, after-life dwelling with God. The Kingdom is a present state of God’s presence, love, compassion, caring, and strengthening. We don’t have to die to experience the Kingdom of Heaven. It is available for us to experience now.
Matthew tells us that when we feel like there is nothing more we can do and feel like there is nothing that can change our situation we will be strengthened by God. He says that when we are mourning we are reminded that God is the most important One in our lives. He says when we are content with what we have and stop striving for what everyone else possesses that we will realize we already possess riches that money can’t buy. He says when we seek God we our seeking will be fulfilled. He says when we understand ourselves we will understand that we are God’s creation.
All of those situations describe times when we recognize our brokenness and realize we can do nothing on our own. In those times, at the bottom of our own will, we are humble enough to turn to God and seek God. That is when we allow God to most fully work in our lives. We recognize that we can do nothing apart from God and that anything is possible with God. When we feel lost, we are found by God. When we desperately want our loved ones back, we can be comforted by the knowledge that God will fulfill Jesus’ promise of eternal life. I’m not usually one for clichés about faith, but some of them can be found to have foundation in the Beatitudes. At the end of ourselves, we do find God.
I think the second half of the Beatitudes have a different message than the first half. The first half tells us what we will find when we seek God and give God control of our lives. The second half tell us about doing God’s will.
In the second half of the Beatitudes, Matthew tells us that when we care for others we find ourselves cared for. This is the joy we receive when we do good for others. He tells us that when we are allow God to reconcile our hearts and minds we will be able to seek God at work in the world. That is, we can understand how God works when we allow Him to work in our lives. He tells us that when we seek peace and encourage others to treat one another well we begin to understand that we are one in God’s great big family.
Matthew also tells us that following Jesus and allowing God control of our lives will not be easy. Our commitment to God’s good will and His truth will require us to persevere in our faith. We should even count it a blessing when people try to discredit us in their pursuit of discrediting God. This will be a sign that we are living out the Gospel faith.
Some English translations translate blessed as happy. I don’t think that’s an easy connection. Happiness is a blessing, but blessing isn’t always happy. For instance, when we are mourning, Matthew says we will be comforted by God. Being comforted in our grief does not bring us happiness. Comfort does not change our grief or make us happy. The blessing is comfort. We are blessed in our mourning, but not necessarily happy.
I recently saw evidence of a Beatitude being lived out in the Ukraine. There has been political feuding in Ukraine since the president pulled out of a deal with the European Union back in November. Many protested the president’s actions filling the streets and blockading government buildings. Anti-protest laws were enacted, but protestors continued to voice their opposition to the president calling for his resignation.
The Greek Catholic priests have been seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The archbishop are adamant that their involvement is spiritual and not political. They are urging the government to listen to the people and asking the people to “stop the bloodshed in the name of God.” In international news reporting, I saw a picture of 3 priests standing between police and protestors holding a cross. The priests stand as peacemakers trying to hold off serious bloodshed and the possibility of civil war.
These priests are blessed, but I’m not sure they’re happy. The priests are blessed with the work of seeking God’s reign in their country, but I’m sure they’re more than a little scared. They understand that lives that are precious to God are at stake. They know a peaceful end to this is possible that will be beneficial for the welfare of the Ukranians. They see God’s opportunity to work in the world and are praying for a peaceful resolution. They are waiting for the powerful to humble themselves and put the needs of the people ahead of their political positions. Many believe that if peace is possible it will be in large part due to the role the priests are playing.
I really do believe world peace is possible if the powerful are humbled and the powerless are lifted up instead of trampled upon. As long as people are driven by power and put their gains ahead of the welfare of others, it will be impossible. When we, and others who have power, work to treat our neighbors as we would want to be treated, the Kingdom of Heaven, Christ’s reign on Earth becomes nearer. When people feel threatened and misunderstood, they fight. When we seek the goodwill of all, we can end political strife and war. When we allow God’s justice to be our guiding principle, we allow others freedom. World peace may seem something only possible after Christ returns to establish His Kingdom, but anything is possible with God. For as Christ said, the Kingdom of Heaven is near.