In Summary, The Beatitudes

Jul 16, 2018

Have you been tracking the pictures of magnolias in my neighborhood that I’ve been posting the last eight weeks alongside the blog posts on the Beatitudes?  The flowers have gone from a tight bud through various stages of opening to a full flower, suggesting that the Beatitudes are a flowering of human potential in God. The flowers represent our growth in relationship to God, at least as far as each of us is willing to go and as far as God would take us.[1]

I think you might already see the pattern from the beginning to the end as Christian author Jim Forest suggests: “They[each Beatitude] are like rungs on a ladder which Christ has arranged in an exact order. There is a pattern to his arrangement. Each step builds on the foundation of the previous step, each leads to the next, and each is indispensable. We can’t divide them up, retaining those we find appealing and leaving those we don’t care for to others, as if one could specialize: ‘I’ll take peacemaking, you can have purity of heart.’”[2]

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”[3]

Let’s look back on the last eight weeks’ focus on the Beatitudes through this lens of a ladder in which each rung builds on the previous rung. In the first Beatitude, “the poor in spirt,” experiencing the emptiness of life as defined by the world, the humble, the empty and the willing are “begin[ning] to breathe in the ‘one cosmic breath of life, the rukha d’goodsha or Holy Breath.”[4] This first rung on the Beatitudes ladder establishes our openness to hearing and following Christ.

“Blessed are those who mourn…”[5]

The second rung of the ladder is about “they who mourn, they shall be comforted.” It’s not just that all who suffer and mourn will be comforted, the Greek word translated comfort also has the connotation of being returned from wandering, united inside by love, feeling an inner continuity or seeing the arrival of what one longs for.”[6] There is a sense of wholeness and completeness that we attain in this second rung of the ladder, in addition to being comforted. So Jesus is adding in a certainty about who we are and whose we are at this point.

“Blessed are the meek…”[7]

Then on the third rung, the “meek will inherit the earth.” Cynthia Bourgeault offers “gentled”[8] as a translation for meek and Neil Douglas-Klotz writes about being “gentle…those who have softened what is rigid within…the humble, those submitted to God’s will.”[9] I am reminded that gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, too, an ability to engage with another person without raising any defensiveness in the other.[10] So the third step on the ladder after being open to Jesus and a certainty in His presence is a real gentleness of spirit that emerges within us.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”[11]

The fourth Beatitude is about “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” This is not about following God’s laws, being letter-of-the-law people, but about having an energy, a focus within us that must see justice and righteousness prevail. This implies a willingness, a huge need even, to work to see this happen in our world, with Christ’s help.

“Blessed are the merciful…”[12]

Then the next step on the ladder, the fifth, is mercy and kindness and compassion towards oneself and others. It means to extend God’s love and care that we have received to everyone else, as if they belonged in the kingdom, too, as they do. There’s a fair exchange here described; if we give mercy, that’s what we receive. Again Jesus is referring to the fruit of the Spirit: kindness, goodness, patience, love, plus faithfulness to God’s laws. These are higher levels of functioning than most human beings achieve, especially those who are still beholden to the world.

“Blessed are the pure in heart…”[13]

So far we have stepped up the ladder through emptiness, mourning, being gentle,  hungering after the fulfillment of God’s laws and then mercy. Now on the sixth rung we find the pure in heart, those whose heart and mind and bodies are pure, untainted by sin. They are totally dedicated to God in every aspect of their lives; no other loyalties abide in them, they are single-minded. Holy.

“Blessed are the peacemakers…”[14]

And on to the 7th rung: the peacemakers. They are those who labor for peace; they till the soil, plant the seeds, weed and water the plants, fertilize and finally reap the harvest of peace. The peacemakers, at peace with themselves and with God, exude peace wherever they go. They embody peace, just like Jesus embodied peace, and they work for it wherever they are.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness…Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me…”[15]

Finally, we get to the last rung, the persecuted, the reviled for Jesus’s sake. So many Christians have shown us how this works when one is so far beyond caring what happens to him/her and their whole life that whatever happens to you is totally in Christ’s hands: the Apostles, Paul, Cyprian of Carthage, Joan of Arc, and in contemporary times, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Archbishop Romero, all martyred. In prison or in the trenches, they kept on track in their studies of the Bible , in their relationship to Christ and in the actions they took in the world. Cynthia Bourgeault writes that “Jesus is not talking about martyrdom here, but about freedom.”[16] The absolute freedom to follow Christ wherever He leads us without a thought given to our own safety or survival.

I love this idea of the ladder that we all scale to get to the top where we are no longer in the world and yet we are still working in the world as long as Jesus wills it. And here are our rewards in order of receiving them:

theirs is the kingdom of heaven,

they’ll be comforted,

they will inherit the earth,

they will be filled,

they will be shown mercy,

they will see God,

they will be called children of God,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and great is their reward there.[17]

What more could we want?

The Beatitudes are the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount which takes three chapters of Matthew to expound, Chapters Five through Seven. As Dallas Willard writes in The Divine Conspiracy, “Now disciples of Jesus are people who want to take into their being the order of The Kingdom Among Us. They wish to live their life in it as Jesus himself would, and that requires internalization of that order.”[18] The thesis of his book, The Divine Conspiracy, is that the entire Sermon on the Mount defines the character of a disciple of Jesus. His Chapter 9: “A Curriculum for Christlikeness,” describes the process by which we follow Jesus and become like Him.[19] And the Beatitudes summarize how the progress looks when we are truly following Christ, from believer to being filled with His Spirit. Amen!

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Questions to ponder over the week: Am I in any way limiting what God can do in my life? Am I holding on to my pain and suffering as the most important thing that defines me? Can I give them up to God in favor of identifying as a son or daughter of God? What one thing can I do today to begin the process of letting God have my sin, my pain and suffering, even my good side—all of who I am?

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Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who will put our whole selves in His hands and follow Him wherever He would lead us. May we completely trust in God. May we be transformed as the Beatitudes describe.

 

An Invitation to All of Us to Pray for our nation: for mercy and compassion for all, for community values and a deep sense of caring for each other. For peace. For love to reign. For a return to a love of God. For us to have“one nation under God” as our motto again. If many of us would pray these things for our country, we could change the world. Invite your friends and neighbors to pray with us. in love and faith, Pat

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[1] You may also have noticed that today’s picture is of a different variety of magnolia than the previous ones. The first eight pics were taken in Charlotte NC; this one was taken in Oakland CA where I am currently staying.

[2] http://jimandnancyforest.com/2005/01/the-ladder-of-the-beatitudes-rung-by-rung/

[3] Matthew 5:3

[4] Neil Doublas-Klotz, Prayers of the Cosmos: Reflections of the Original Meaning of Jesus’ Words, HarperOne, NY, 1990, p.48

[5] Matthew 5:4

[6] Douglas-Klotz, p. 51

[7] Matthew 5:5

[8] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message, Shambhala, Boston & London, 2008, p. 44

[9] Douglas-Klotz, p. 53

[10] Galatians 5:22-3

[11] Matthew 5:6

[12] Matthew 5:7

[13] Matthew 5:8

[14] Matthew 5:9

[15] Matthew 5:10-11

[16] Cynthia Bourgeault,_____________________, p. 46

[17] Matthew 5:3-12

[18] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, HarperOne, NY, 1997,  p. 361

[19] Ibid, p. 311

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