Christians have viewed the Beatitudes as a new ethic or moral code. But they are more than that. Jesus was challenging his contemporaries to live according to God’s reign, as a new covenant people, a people whose hearts were renewed by the word and work of the living God. He was asking them to live as he lived. His own commitment to a different way of living was based on his conviction that he was called to work to bring about the reign of God. His teaching was about the kingdom of God not in heaven but on earth, and it required a transformation of the humanly created world of societies and domination systems. It was a challenge to abandon conventional values for what he saw as God’s values. In his world of earthly kingdoms and rigid social strata, it was a radical message.
Thy kingdom come on earth.
Reflect on the Beatitudes. (Matthew 5:1-12) How do you respond?
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them.
Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, “See here!” or “See there!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.
The Beatitudes are in some sense the Christian’s identity card. They identify us as followers of Jesus. We are called to be blessed, to be followers of Jesus, to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age with the spirit and love of Jesus.
The beatitudes mean deeper mercy for those who experience more divisive misery, deeper blessings for those whose hope is dimmest. They give an ultimate authority to certain people and their plight in the world. They signify not just a religious attitude, but a social attitude toward realities that should not exist among humans.
The Beatitudes are no spiritual “to do list” to be attempted by eager, rule-keeping disciples. It is a spiritual “done” list of the qualities God brings to bear in the people who follow Jesus.
Even when they call us mad, when they call us subversives and communists and all the epithets they put on us, we know we only preach the subversive witness of the Beatitudes, which have turned everything upside down.
The Beatitudes are deliberately designed to shock us. If we’re not shocked by the Beatitudes, it’s only because we have tamed them with a patronizing sentimentality – and being sentimental about Jesus is the religious way of ignoring Jesus! Too often the Beatitudes are set aside into the category of “nice things that Jesus said that I don’t really understand.
I have often wondered why people never want to put a stone monument of the Eight Beatitudes on a courthouse lawn. Then I realize that the Eight Beatitudes of Jesus would probably not be very good for any war, any macho worldview, the wealthy, or our consumer economy.
The Beatitudes, in particular, are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God or good for human beings…They are explanations and illustrations, drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus. They single out cases that provide proof that, in him, the rule of God truly is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope.