Thursday, April 18, 2013
It’s likely we’ve read Jesus’ Beatitudes as a list of virtues— attitudes and actions that He wants us to pursue. So, we think, He wants us to be humble (Matthew 5:5), merciful (v.7), pure in heart (v.8), and peaceful (v.9).
These are wonderful qualities to have. If we’re to be consistent in reading the Beatitudes this way, however, some of these “virtues” become tricky. Does Jesus really want us to mourn (v.4) or to be persecuted and insulted? (vv.10-11). (Some have said we should mourn over our sins, but this is not actually said in the text.) This way of reading the Beatitudes can also lead to a works-based understanding of salvation. If we’re humble, gentle, merciful, and soon, we assume that God will then “bless” us.
Perhaps Jesus was making a different point. Luke’s recording of the Beatitudes makes it clear that Jesus was not addressing people who thought they were poor, hungry, or sad, but people who literally were (Luke 6:17-23).
This has led commentators like Dallas Willard to suggest that Jesus’ Beatitudes are not a list of virtues but a list of “outcasts” rejected by society but “blessed” by Jesus (the people mentioned in Matthew 4:23-25). They were spiritually impoverished (5:3), sad (v.4), shy and prone to abuse (v.5), seeking but denied justice (v.6), ridiculed for being merciful or living by their strict conscience (vv.7-8), peacemakers instead of political radicals (v.9), and those persecuted for doing right or following Jesus (vv.10-11). All such people were “written off” by both the secular society and religious elite of Jesus’ day.
If this is what Jesus was saying, then the message of the Beatitudes is radical. Jesus welcomes all whom society rejects. Today that would include murderers, molesters, drug dealers, or the homeless, mentally ill, and overweight people.
Jesus ignores the world’s popularity lists. He takes anyone who will come to Him. —Sheridan Voysey
Read: Matthew 5:1-12
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted (v.4).
More: Read Mary’s inspiring “magnificat” (also known as the song of Mary) in Luke 1:46-55 to see the way God reverses the fortunes of those who are despised by the world.
Next: What hopeless or “written off” people do you know? How can you be as gracious toward them as Jesus is to you?