When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
By Tricia Brant, Community Worker at St Margaret’s, Oxford:
The Beatitudes are my favourite part of the Bible. If I could only keep one part of scripture, this would be it. They are challenging, inspiring, powerful and rich, but also full of hope – they each come with a promise. They show the ‘upside-down-ness’ of God – God’s values are different. ‘His delight is not in the strength of a horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner’ Psalm 147 v 10. The Beatitudes are counter-cultural; they are kingdom values. They cause us to reassess the things we strive after, to try to look at and value people differently, and to see treasure in those who are overlooked.
If our society were to write the Beatitudes, they would be the opposite of Jesus’ words. They would say ‘Blessed are the successful, the powerful, the rich, and the self-assertive’. This leaves no room for those to whom life didn’t deal the best hand, who didn’t have the same opportunities or privileges. Fortunately, God doesn’t value what we value, he sees people differently.
Jesus spent his life and ministry with the outcasts and untouchables, in many ways those he called ‘blessed’ in the Beatitudes, those who knew their need of God. He saw value in them, called them his friends – this is God incarnate, the King of Kings, the creator of the world calling the downtrodden friends. He didn’t choose to spend his time with the morally upright and socially acceptable, he chose to honour the smelly and the dirty, the uneducated, the lowest of the low. He didn’t have to make himself feel better about himself by being surrounded with those who reflected well on him. He knew his value, he knew he was loved by the Father, he didn’t need to prove it. This, our truly humble God.
Humility is a common thread that goes through the Beatitudes. To be poor in spirit and meek, you must know your need of God. Mourning and persecution themselves bring humility, there is little room for pride – a wise person once told me that ‘being widowed is a great leveller’. To be merciful requires the humility to look at another’s needs and to see them as important. To be pure in heart requires a grace and humility towards others. To be a peacemaker requires putting aside your rights and compromising. All these require a degree of laying down ourselves, of not pursuing selfish gain. Having the perspective of a greater good, of building God’s kingdom.
I once knew a gentle homeless man called Herminio. I remember sitting with him in a group of people from a soup kitchen in Montevideo. At that time, he was so degraded by his circumstances, completely humiliated. He didn’t talk and could only grunt, he was stooped over, smelly and dirty. He sat there scratching away and pulling out from under his clothing the biggest lice I had ever seen. He then later got up and shuffled to the bathroom, leaving the most awful smell. I later painted a portrait of him as part of a series of homeless men from the soup kitchen in Montevideo. I renamed each one after strong Biblical characters, who on the surface, were unlikely leaders, but God saw qualities in them that were not apparent to others. This was to show that God doesn’t value people as we do but, sees us differently. I remember sitting in my studio one day, looking at my painting of Herminio and thinking ‘how does God see him?’ My answers were, He absolutely loves him, beyond measure and things along those lines but thinking it would be in a rather patronising and pitying way. Then it hit me: God would be overwhelmed with pride and love for him. With pure delight, He would be telling everyone, ‘Look! This is my son!’ He would want to show him off to everyone, more than any parent whose child has achieved great acclaim. I was humbled. If he had been a relative of mine, I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to know. I would have been tempted to hide him away and been so embarrassed. But God sees beyond our dirt and sin, our failures and weaknesses. He loves us completely and absolutely, beyond measure and without boundaries, with pure pride and delight – He sees us differently.
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