SCRIPTURE: Matthew 5:1-12
1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Charles James Cook shares the following about this well-known section of Scripture:
Whenever we hear the Beatitudes, we are struck with their poetic beauty and, at the same time, overwhelmed by their perceived impracticality for the world in which we live. We admire the instruction, but we fear the implications of putting the words into actual practice. We live in a time when the blessings given are to those who succeed, often at the expense of others. To be poor in spirit, peaceful, merciful, and meek will get you nowhere in a culture grounded in competition and fear. Perhaps this is why most references to the Beatitudes imply that in giving this instruction, Jesus was literally turning the values of the world upside down. Who can survive in attempting to live into the spirit of the Beatitudes?
The answer resides not in their impracticality but in their practicality. We often approach them as an impossible challenge for ordinary living. Only the greatest of saints are up to the task. Therefore, we wait for the occasional figures like Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Desmond Tutu to show us the way. In the meantime, the world does not get any better, and we remain unfulfilled in our pale expressions of Christian discipleship. The truth is that Jesus meant the Beatitudes to be for everyone. How can such a task be accomplished in our own time?
Cook’s primary argument that the Beatitudes are for everyone, not just a select group of “special” people is something that I know I personally had never given much thought about one way or another. But I think Cook’s argument is not only valid but crucial to how we understand what God calls us to do and to be as Christians. Just as living up to the life that Jesus lived is always going to be beyond our complete grasp, so too are the Beatitudes. But also just like Jesus’ examples, we should always work to do our best to live up to and into the words of the Beatitudes. Christianity is not a spectator sport, and we cannot just sit on the sidelines waiting for someone else to act. God calls all people to be loving, merciful, and grace-filled examples to the world.
Take a few moments throughout your day today and ask yourself, how would your life change if you interpreted the Beatitudes literally?
We are blessed, O Lord, when we are meek, pure, and humble, but these are not qualities that come naturally. Give us the strength to cultivate them. Help us to turn away from feelings and actions that conflict with love, mercy, and grace. Amen.