MisUnderstanding the Beatitudes

Is that what it means?

(just thinking out loud; my thoughts about Matt 5 while reading the book "The Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard, which I highly recommend.

Probably the most famous passage of scripture for both Christ followers and everyone is his "Blessed are the" statements by Jesus in Matthew chapter 5. However, far from bringing Christ's blessing to those who read it, the misunderstanding of this passage can often bring waves of guilt on the person who says "I am not that" or pride to the person who can claim one or two of those attributes. That is why it is extremely important we understand them in context and know what meaning He was attempting to give to these deep thoughts. I admit I have misunderstood them (and often ignored them) for most of my Christian life. They must not be for today, but for the future kingdom is what I had been told, but to separate this portion of scripture out to some future tense because we do not understand what He meant is in my experience and opinion.....well...just wrong.

When Jesus says "Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" does God want me to be poor in Spirit? Those who are poor in spirit are ignorant of God's Law, His Spirit, of Christ's sacrifice of anything spiritual. The term in Greek basically means they know nothing of the Spirit. I was that way many years ago but I am past that point. I know quite a bit now. There is always more to learn but I would not say I am poor in Spirit. So what does it really mean? He obviously does not want me to give up what I know and be poor in Spirit, He wants me to know Him, which makes me rich in spirit. Which makes me realize I do not understand what He is trying to say to me.

If the Beatitudes are a list of do's and don'ts of how to be Blessed, then it is at odds with all the rest of what Jesus taught. If we can obtain the kingdom of heaven by being poor, or by being persecuted or by being spiritually thirsty then we don't really need Jesus do we? As good Christians we would never say that out loud but if we believe the sermon on the mount is teaching a list of this sort, then in fact we do believe we can just do these things and be blessed. Then we are engineering our way into the Kingdom or obtaining "salvation by attitude" as Dallas Willard points out.

If we seriously believe this is how to interpret this passage of scripture then we would seek to be poor, sad and persecuted, as well as the positive attributes of merciful,pure in heart and peacekeepers. However, Jesus threw open the Kingdom to all people. To bring to us a new list of do's and don'ts of how to obtain righteousness by our own effort could not have been what He meant, it had to be deeper, I am missing it, we are missing it.

Did He really mean when I look upon a group of poor, hungry and spiritually ignorant people I should infer and believe they are blessed?

Then what does it really mean?

Jesus often used a teaching method of upsetting the prevailing thought of the day. For instance, most people thought (for thousands of years) that riches meant Heaven's blessing and favor but He taught that it did not necessarily correlate. He even pointed out that Riches made it harder to serve God, but said it was possible with His help. (see rich young ruler) Another instance is when Jesus talked about not having family over for dinner but to invite the poor (Luke 14). Does that mean we should not have family over for dinner? No it does not. He was trying to change the minds and hearts of those listening to think outside the boxes they had built. Jesus had the habit of letting the air out of the popular balloon. Matt chapter 5 is a teaching by Jesus in just this manner.

Luke's version seems even harder to comprehend if we use the understanding that Jesus was giving a "how to" guide to being Blessed.

Context: Jesus had just launched into his Ministry, been tempted by the Devil and had been being followed around constantly by throngs of people. He was healing all manner of sickness and mental disease. When you look at what Jesus taught as a whole by reading the entire Gospels, he uses several methods. Sometimes He uses straight forward thoughts, sometimes parables and He also used the 'contradicting the popular thought' method. In all these teachings He drove it home again and again that God's kingdom was now (by virtue of His appearance on earth) freely available to all and that they must look to Him as the source. The religious systems of the day relegated God's approval to a few who followed the right rules, but Jesus welcomed them all, EVEN those who from our human understanding were FAR from righteous or far from appearing blessed. He showed people He was the source and that all should come no matter how awful their background was.

What is the overarching sinew that holds this together? Jesus. With God all things are possible (rich young ruler) and the blessing of the Kingdom of Heaven is available to all no matter how bad or even good their situation, all they need to do is realize He is the answer, He cares, He is available and ready to bless them just as He is ready to bless those who seem to already have it together if they will only do one thing; Turn to Him.

This inclusiveness was diametrically opposed to how people of that day thought. As He launches into the beatitudes He continues to burst their bubbles. He was continuing to drive home the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven restores the broken of all types even those whom society deems as unblessed by heaven.

It was a message of hope for those there on that mountain with Him and to us. Many there were poor in spirit, outcasts, hopeless, people taken advantage of because they were kind (merciful), mourning loss, suffering abuse because they try to be a peacemaker. He tried to snap them out of their current thought patterns of feeling unblessed by God and to snap the others out of their self-righteous attitude by saying that God was near to those suffering, even understood their plight. He even mentions that the prophets before them (who were far from spiritually poor) suffered abuse too to further drive home that it does not mean God is far from you because you suffer.

By teaching this Jesus was again fulfilling Isaiah 61:1.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. Which Jesus Himself points out in Luke 4:18.

As I look at the context and intent of all of Jesus teachings I understand the purpose of the Sermon on the mount to show that the Kingdom of God is available to all who look to Him it opens my mind and heart to love all people no matter their current situation or outward appearance. The Gospel means 'the good news'. That good news is that all the Spiritual Blessings that Jesus offers me is for them too.

I by no means meant to get preachy here. I am working this out myself and thinking out loud. The best way for me to "think out loud" and remember what I think He is teaching me is to write it down. It is how I learn best. I believe this understanding of what the Beatitudes are meant to convey is in harmony with the teachings of Jesus as a whole. He was about bringing the good news, and the only way to bring this radical change to the world was to snap them out of their pervasive wrongheadedness about relating to God.

In Him.


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