Jesus starts the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes. This series of nine blessing statements embody the essence of the entire sermon. In a reconstructed abundance, they say a great deal about living by soul in a spirit of love. But how?
Starting tomorrow I will dig into each of the individual statements. But before I do, it is important for us explore the word that opens each Beatitude, “Blessed.”
What is the Bible?
Flash back a couple decades and I served as youth pastor at a church in Northern California. The church aimed to connect with people who wanted something different from church. There was pop praise music and programming for children. The sermons sought to be practical and principle based. The Senior Pastor talked about the Bible as the owner’s manual for the human life. BIBLE stood for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.
I believe he meant well. He genuinely wanted to make the Bible feel relevant to his Boomer generation. So practical lessons and sermons that included five things to do appealed to his target audience. For a number of years, the church grew rapidly. But there is one significant problem. That Bible never portends to be the owner’s manual for the human life. Nor is it basic instructions before leaving earth. The Bible is a collection of literature written by people struggling with God’s self-revelation. It is about people battling between the ways of this world and the Kingdom of Heaven. The whole book is about the spirit of power and love.
Are They Be-Attitudes?
One example of this comes with the Beatitudes. If you view the Bible as an instruction book, then it would only be natural to think of them as the Be-Attitudes, that is, postures to embrace. So you need to learn to be poor in spirit. Or you need to learn to mourn or be meek.
As it turns out, there are both Hebrew and Greeks words that would convey that idea. It is a word that a worship leader would use as a prayer petition, asking God to bless the people with something they do not currently have. It would translate, “Bless us with a poverty of spirit.” Or, “Bless us with mourning.” To put the Be-Attitudes spin on it, it would say, “Help us be meek.”
However, that Greek word, does not show up in Matthew 5. We do not know for sure if Jesus taught in Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek, but we do know, that what Matthew heard him say, does not invite us to pursue certain attitudes that God wants us to embrace.
Or Are They Beatitudes?
Instead, Matthew used another word for bless that recognizes an already existent reality. So what Jesus really says is, “Blessed are the people who realize they are poor in spirit.”
As scholar Kenneth Bailey explains, “As a group, the Beatitudes do not mean, ‘Blessed are the people who do X because they will receive Y.’ The point is not exhortation for a certain type of behavior. Instead they should be read with the sense, ‘Look at the authentic spirituality and joy of these people who have or will be given X.’ … These are not the Be-Attitudes where you pray to embody these characteristics, they’re something you are and you’re blessed because of it.” In other words, the blessing is found in the recognition and embrace of what is fundamentally true about you.
Power or Love?
In our terminology, the Be-Attitudes approach is about a spirit of power. It is power over yourself in that you are seeking to externally manifest something. It is also an attempt at power over God. In the end it treats God like some divine vending machine who spits out blessings to those who pay the right price. This is before you get to the question of whether someone pursuing meekness can ever be, genuinely meek.
In contrast, a spirit of love that focuses on honesty and vulnerability naturally invites us to reject any attempt to perform or become something. A spirit of love strips away the layers of image crafting in search of the true self. It invites us to embrace the reality we fearfully cover up. In this case, Jesus invites us to reflect on our poverty in spirit, mourning, and meekness. He invites us to, at the very least, imagine that these things are true, and then consider how that changes our perspective on life.
Trying to draw out this distinction, some translations will say, “Happy are the poor in spirit.” This drives an inquisitive response because poverty of any kind does not equate with happiness as we understand it. But it does set the stage for our discussion at Abundance Reconstructed.
They Are the Beatitudes
Ultimately, Jesus is saying the thing preventing us from recognizing these things as true, is our pursuit of power. So, those who pursue the Be-Attitudes approach not only miss the point, but it is not until they give up the pursuit that they can come to understand what Jesus is saying.
So that is what we will be doing over the next eight days. We are going to step into each Beatitude and explore how they invite us to see the world.
This post is part of an ongoing series. Link here for a list of every episode in this series.