(Matthew 5: 1-12)
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
When we consider the meaning of the word blessing, we think of it in positive terms, and as a good occurrence in our lives. For example, when something particularly good occurs for someone, we often describe that person as being “richly blessed.” In addition, blessings are often seen as the result of the loving, grace-filled, and benevolent activities of God upon us and upon our lives. I know that I surely felt God’s love, mercy and blessing upon me as I recovered from my surgeries last year. I know that many people have shared this same feeling with me from their own life circumstances. I, like they, have also sensed deeply the power of the healing prayers that we offered for me. Blessings, like the acts of God’s grace itself, are not something we can earn or particularly deserve–that’s why they are considered blessings! And don’t we all hope to receive blessings as we travel along this journey called life?
I have reminded us about blessings today because the gospel text we shared this morning contains sayings of Jesus, to the crowd that gathered to listen to his teaching, that are often referred to as “the Beatitudes.” The word Beatitude comes from the Latin word “beatitude,” which translates as blessedness. Each beatitude refers to a state of blessedness for those people who bear a particular kind of personal trait. These are particular spiritual traits and circumstances Jesus highlighted for his listeners due to their significance in the kingdom of God that he came to reveal. Each trait results in a particular positive outcome in God’s kingdom. Let us now delve deeper into these blessings from this lesson, so that we may discern the meaning they hold for us and for the world in which we are living today.
Christian Minister and Interdenominational Christian Biblical Studies author, Mary Fairchild, has written an interesting article in which she interprets each of Jesus’ Beatitudes, or pronouncements of blessedness for his followers for her readers. She describes the essence of the spiritual meaning each of them holds for believers, and then forms a paraphrase for each of them. Let us remember that the Beatitudes are spiritual blessings, or “divine favor,” as Fairchild refers to them. Jesus spoke blessedness upon people in the circumstances he described who possessed particular character traits. Jesus began his discourse of blessings by stating “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Fairchild defines the “poor in spirit” as those who suffer a condition of spiritual poverty. They are aware of their impoverished human condition, and their need for God. She describes such people as “spiritually bankrupt apart from Jesus Christ,” and the life in the kingdom of heaven that Jesus promises is life for and among all who believe in and accept God as King. Fairchild’s paraphrase states, “Blessed are those who humbly recognize their need for God, for they will enter into his kingdom.”
Jesus’ pronounced his second Beatitude, or blessing, as follows: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Here Fairchild describes those who mourn as those who are in deep sorrow, and who mourn and repent of their sins. Their comfort is the freedom and joy of eternal salvation that is found in God’s forgiveness of all who repent of their sins. Fairchild’s paraphrase of this Beatitude states, “Blessed are those who mourn for their sins, for they shall receive forgiveness and life eternal.”
Jesus’ third Beatitude proclaims, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” In this Beatitude, Fairchild sees two important aspects. First, the meek are those who humbly submit to God’s authority and rule, and they make him their Lord. Secondly, the meek are the imitators of Jesus Christ, whose whole life was an example of gentleness and self-control. Fairchild quotes Revelation 21:7, which states that God’s children will “inherit all things,” as substantiating Jesus’ promise of inheritance for those who possess a spirit of meekness. Therefore, her paraphrase for this blessing states, “Blessed are those who submit to God as Lord, for they will inherit everything he possesses.”
In his fourth Beatitude, Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Fairchild interprets those who hunger and thirst for righteousness as those who have a “deep need and driving passion” for the righteousness that is Christ Jesus, our Lord. To be filled is to have the satisfaction of our soul’s desire. Therefore, Fairchild paraphrases this Beatitude as, “Blessed are those who passionately long for Christ, for he will satisfy their souls.”
Jesus’ fifth Beatitude states, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” In interpreting this blessing of Jesus, Fairchild reminds us of an inevitable truth of life-we reap what we sow. Those who show mercy receive mercy. In the same manner, those who have received great mercy will show great mercy to others through similar acts of forgiveness, kindness and compassion. For this blessing, Fairchild’s paraphrase states, “Blessed are those who show mercy through forgiveness, kindness and compassion, for they will receive mercy.”
The sixth Beatitude Jesus pronounces for those who have gathered to hear him states, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” The pure in heart, Fairchild explains, are those who have been cleansed from within. This is not an outward display of righteousness that others can see, but a deep inward holiness that can be seen only by God. Fairchild cites Hebrews 12:14, which reminds us that without holiness, no one will see God. Therefore, Fairchild’s interpretation of this Beatitude states, “Blessed are those who have been purified from the inside out, being made clean and holy, for they will see God.”
The seventh Beatitude Jesus proclaimed to the gathered crowd is one particularly relevant to our life circumstance today. It states, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called [sons] children of God.” Regarding this blessing, Fairchild recalls that the scriptures say we have peace with God through Jesus Christ. Our reconciliation through Christ Jesus brings us into restored fellowship with God, which, in turn, brings us peace. We have been entrusted by God to share this same good news message of reconciliation to God through Christ Jesus with others. And so, Fairchild paraphrases this Beatitude as follows, “Blessed are those who have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and who bring this same message of reconciliation to others. All who have found peace with God are [his] God’s children.”
Finally, Jesus understood well the times the people he was teaching faced. He blessed their difficult circumstance with these words, “Blesses are those who are persecuted because of righteousness. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus understood that just as he faced persecution for his faith-life and righteousness, so would those who follow him. Those who endure difficulty and continue in their faith, rather than hide it to avoid being persecuted by others are the true and genuine followers of Christ Jesus. Fairchild interprets this Beatitude by stating, “Blessed are those daring enough to openly live for Christ and suffer persecution, for they will receive the kingdom of heaven.”
Now that we have a deeper and spiritually rich and meaningful understanding of these blessings Jesus spoke to his followers and listeners, we can discern the message of truth they have for us today. Ultimately, friends in Christ, Jesus proclaims that we are eternally blessed when we have him in our lives and follow his ways. We are truly blessed when we realize that on our own, we cannot attain righteousness, peace with God, and an inheritance of eternal life in the fellowship of other believers in the kingdom of God. Jesus came to be the way to our salvation, and to newness of life in the kingdom of God. When, in humility, we mourn and repent of our sin, we receive the blessed peace of forgiveness, and inherit eternal life through him. The joy of this unearned mercy calls us to share this good news with others, and to show them same mercy and compassion we received. Jesus also shared that following him and living according to his example may place us in the path of persecution. But, even under this adversity we are blessed if we will persevere. Paul’s lesson today from First Corinthians reminds us that the world may call us foolish for living as Jesus taught us, and embracing these spiritual character traits. But the truth is that we are truly blessed to be living in and for Christ Jesus, for he brings us the only true life we can ever really know—eternal life in the kingdom of God in the family of believers. Let us say Amen to this good news, and may it be so.