The first part of the ‘sermon on the mount’ is called the ‘beatitudes’ and it is probably the most famous part of this sermon and the words that Jesus is most associated with. The famous Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi was so impressed with these teachings that he even wrote a whole book on the subject. Even though Ghandi wasn’t particularly impressed with Jesus’ followers, as he felt they were hypocritical, he was very impressed with Jesus himself and His teaching of love tolerance and acceptance.
But are the ‘beatitudes’ just a lovely bunch of sayings which everyone would naturally follow or are they actually counter cultural? If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you can get very familiar with these phrases and essentially lose the impact of what Jesus is saying and their radical nature. Culturally they are completely upside down. In fact people who have read them for the first time have actually been quite offended by them. When you think about it, why would anyone describe as blessed someone who is poor in spirit, crying, meek and picked on? We will look at each of these sayings in depth over the next few weeks, but to make my point about them being ‘upside down’ I’m going to turn them the right way up (In the world’s eyes) and show you how the opposite would be much more palatable to our society;
Blessed are the spiritually rich because they have inner contentment and have learned to love themselves. Blessed are the happy and cheerful because they have learned how to cheer others up by making them laugh. Blessed are the strong and assertive because they look after themselves and make things happen. Blessed are they who are full of righteousness. Blessed are those who ‘look after number one’ because unless you do, you will never be able to help anyone else. Blessed are those who refuse to get trodden on, because no-one wants to be a doormat. Blessed are those who avoid being persecuted by compromising, because no one likes an arrogant or intolerant person. If people try to pick on you, be assertive, refuse to let them put you down. Stand on your own two feet and give as good as you get.
That sounds more like something a modern self-help guru might say.
The word ‘blessed’ is used constantly in these sayings and it is important to realise what the word means. The Greek word is ‘Makarios’ and it can have three aspects to it; blessed, happy or fortunate (lucky). As Christians we don’t like to refer to ourselves as fortunate or lucky, so this aspect may cause us a little trouble, but in many ways we are fortunate but not through some random quirk of fate. As a Christian I often feel incredibly lucky that God should choose me when many of my friends are still floundering in their sin. It certainly wasn’t because I was any better than they.
Being blessed by God is the experience of hope and joy, independent of outside circumstances. That’s why we can also be happy. It’s not just a temporary state of mind, happy one minute, sad the next.
Every single one of us is in pursuit of happiness, that is our goal and our mission in life. For many, eating a lovely cake will make them happy but for those that don’t eat it, they are looking to their future happiness of looking thin. Whatever we do, the ultimate motivation will always be our happiness. Even to the extreme of those that commit suicide, they are looking for a release from their sadness and expect that death will be better than their current state.
The beatitudes are saying though that we will never be blessed or happy if we pursue those things in and of themselves. The beatitudes are not conditions of salvation and they are not saying that you should look to be in the state of mourning or poor in spirit etc for any length of time but they do suggest the qualities of the true children of God. True blessedness and lasting happiness is found in God alone and that is what these sayings are pointing to.
My hope is that this all becomes a lot clearer as we study each one in the following weeks. Next week we will start by looking at what it means to be poor in spirit.