From start to finish, the Beatitudes are in stark contrast to our natural reaction to a given reality. The Beatitudes turn me on my head and shake me around, so that I find that what seems “upside down” is really “upside right”. In a word, they transform my mind. There's no doubt it would have been the same for the Twelve.
Jesus didn’t call them so they could overthrow Rome - probably an especially surprising truth for Simon the Zealot who would have trained for that specific opportunity. Jesus didn't call them so that they could withdraw from the world, as the Essenes of their day did. Instead, He called them to be part of the prayer He teaches in this very sermon: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
As we learn to walk with Jesus, in order to truly live these words we have to first understand that the typical Western Christian's thinking about being “blessed” is all messed up. Think about it – when you hear someone says “God has blessed me” what are they usually referring to? Not always of course, but in the West that phrase often references material prosperity, or circumstances that have gone the way the person wanted them to go. We have an erroneous idea that challenging circumstances are tests we have to pass in order to get to the blessing. Before we can effectively be part of bringing a glimpse of His kingdom to earth, we have to learn what blessedness really means.
The word makarios literally means “a sense of God’s approval”. It’s a contentment that comes from doing what is right in His sight and is rooted in right relationship with Him. A.T. Robertson defines it as "happiness identified with pure character" that pictures the "ideal of a world-wide sympathy and of a happiness realized in ministry." The word is used in the opposite sense of “need” to describe a state of sufficiency and fullness. A literal rendering of Psalm 23:1 reads, “The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing.” This is a perfect definition of a state of blessedness. When we are "blessed" we are fully satisfied. Jesus’ words teach me that this blessedness, this satisfaction, comes when I chose holiness over sin, His way over mine, His presence over popularity; when I live congruently with the new creature He’s made me, then I experience true blessedness.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian who ardently opposed Hitler and the overwhelming majority of churches that gave into Hitler’s schemes. Over time, Bonhoeffer came to see the Sermon as a call to a lifestyle of radical discipleship for all Christians. In his insightful book, The Cost of Discipleship, he expounds on the Sermon in great detail.
Bonhoeffer observes that while the crowds were present, it was His disciples to whom the message was directed. These disciples followed Jesus (like us!) but lived among the people (also like us!) to preach His call to discipleship. Bonhoeffer sees that the very call to follow Jesus led these men into a status of being poor, afflicted, and hungry – a place they might not have been if they had stayed in their businesses and minded their own business. Ultimately, Bonhoeffer sees the Beatitudes as encouragement for those whose call to discipleship has led them to a place of struggle.
Yes, Jesus calls the disciples blessed in the presence of the crowd. This becomes a call to all who follow Jesus to live out what He makes us by His promise. For His path to satisfaction and joy has never been a path to more of this temporary, fading existence. Instead His promised depth of satisfaction and joy is directly linked to us bringing a glimpse of His kingdom to this broken, needy world.
As noted in the previous posts, I am seeking to frame my lessons learned, the "what does it mean for me" around four questions to help my theology meet my reality:
What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? (1 John 1:1-2)
Freedom for the oppressed. Meeting the tangible needs of people. Trading in legalism and accusations for spending ourselves on behalf of others’ needs. Repairing things at a societal level. Enjoying the presence of the Lord. This is true satisfaction and joy. This is true blessedness. The life He gives is blessed in ways I could never imagine in my preconceived ideas of happiness.