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These are some of the best known statements by Jesus and the introduction to the “Sermon on The Mount.” In the Greek, the repeated word μακάριοι, “blessed”, stood out to me. English “blessed” is such a many-colored word. Are we to read “fortunate”? Maybe “protected” or “supernaturally-cared-for”? Satisfied? Happy? Better-off? I went online to verify the exact direction this word was heading. Thayer’s says “blessed, happy”. It is most commonly translated biblically as “blessed”, and sometimes “happy” or “happier”. I’m not trying to split hairs with this word, so I’ll go with happy to understand the idea of “blessed”, with a tendency towards “supernaturally-cared-for” in light of the context of this passage.
These statements are all disturbing. They contradict our natural tendencies and our self-interest. They certainly violate our ideas of self-improvement and self-dependency. Jesus says we are blessed if we are:
Poor In Spirit. We want to be strong. But the strong don’t need others. And they often don’t realize their weaknesses. You might have heard the expression, “When you have a hammer, every problem becomes a nail.” When you think you have the tools, you try to do it yourself. An understanding that we are bankrupt before God is a good thing. It puts us on the right path to start. In Mourning. Jesus essentially says that those who mourn are “happy”. But his reasoning is telling – for they will be comforted. God wants to comfort us. He also wants us to receive comfort from each other. We are not happy when we mourn, but we who have a relationship with God’s son have assurance that Jesus is there, ready and able to comfort us.
Meek. The world tells us to put ourselves forward; that life is about “getting ahead”. Jesus tells us that this is nonsense. The meek are not doormats, but neither must they self-promote. They are willing to serve, to go un-announced, because they know they are fulfilling their purpose. That purpose was given by God and is not contingent on human recognition. Longing For Righteousness. The reality is that men have largely rejected God’s gifts. They have replaced God with man-made systems that are materialistic and unjust. So these cry out to God, for He alone will hear and help. Do we crave righteousness? Do we offer it to the hurting, and the hope of justice and compassion?
Merciful. We all know that we should be merciful. But not many of us believe it. When we have been violated or hurt in some way, we want the other party to pay the full cost of the wrong done. When we harm another, we want them to understand and show leniency. That’s human nature. And that’s no excuse. God calls us to be merciful, as he has been to us. Clean In Heart. The easy path leads to sin. It leads to a heart that is far from God and refuses to hear his voice. God wants to cleanse our hearts and give us the ability to conquer sin. Temptation will always be there. But the clean in heart turn to God, and offer by example the hope of overcoming-strength to the world.
Peacemakers. We want to win. When will we understand that it is better to resolve conflict than to win it? The peacemaker picks his battles. But the emphasis is not on the battles, rather on building bridges to people. It is also about laying down our “rights”. What would you give up to make a friendship, to offer an mage of God to a darkened soul? Persecuted. Persecution complexes abound, but they are commonly selfish indulgences. They are our way of excusing our behavior and forcing others to cater to our whims. But Jesus was speaking to people who were suffering for doing what was right; who were rejected by the mainstream for being broken and not hiding it well. He offers hope to those who have suffered and will suffer for being associated with his name.
Jesus showed the inhabitants of Galilee that God was intimately concerned with their everyday. Though the religious leaders and political machine had overlooked them, Jesus would not. These men and women were the reason he came. He would not stoop to offer them a life of ease or to march into Jerusalem and fulfill everyone’s expectations. But he would offer them his father, the God who heard their cries and offered salvation and hope. Jesus’ words match up with his life! Even if we look just before this passage, to the end of chapter 4, we see a Jesus who is healing the diseases and illnesses of the people, rather than hob-nobbing with the rich and powerful. He showed his new disciples where their hearts should be.