A Bible Teacher at a Christian High School regularly assigns passages of Scripture for her students to memorize. She decided to assign portions of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the Beatitudes. As is routine, her students stand up at the beginning of class and recite the passage. They’d begin in the most apathetic monotone, “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...”. This went on and on as if they were reciting it in their sleep. After a few days of this, the teacher finally interrupted them and said, “What is wrong with you guys?! Why do you sound so bored?” The students responded with looks of confusion, until one student shrugged and said, “what’s the big deal? We get it, we are supposed to be nice.”
Wow. Had these students missed the boat. If anyone reads the Beatitudes and comes away with nice, they have severely misunderstood Christ’s words. Unfortunately, this is common practice. When we come across passages we find uncomfortable, we are tempted to reduce their meaning to something “safer”. But Scripture is not “safe” and will not always be comfortable. Scripture is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12). When we dampen the meaning of Scripture, we diminish Its power in our lives.
This seems to be the case for these student’s interpretation of Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount. His words are radical; they are unlike any ethical system ever devised. Jesus pierces through the beliefs and desires of, not only His time, but our time as well.
There are many recipes for blessedness. Just about all of them consist of some combination of the same ingredients. They would all say in order to be blessed you must have: resources (i.e. money, materials, or abilities), relatively little pain, success (win or conquer), a good self-esteem, justice (i.e. your rights), access to fleshly fulfillment, and acceptance. These seem like reasonable ingredients for happiness. Or at the very least, we would find it unreasonable if someone said that happiness consisted of their opposites. But that is just what Jesus did.
To our desire for resources, Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit.
To our desire for painlessness, Jesus said blessed are those who mourn.
To our desire for conquest, Jesus said blessed are the meek and blessed are the peacemakers.
To our desire for contentment with ourselves, Jesus said blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
To our desire for justice, Jesus said blessed are the merciful.
To our desires of the flesh, Jesus said blessed are the pure in spirit.
To our desire for acceptance, Jesus said blessed are the persecuted.
Jesus’ roadmap to happiness is a complete “about face” from the traditional view. Is this because Jesus’ roadmap is unreasonable or is the traditional view unreasonable? G. K. Chesterton believed the later, he said, It is because we are standing on our heads with our nose to the ground and our feet kicking up at the heavens. That is why Christ’s philosophy looks upside down to us. Over the next few weeks we will focus on the individual beatitudes within Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, as Matthew presents in Matthew 5:3-10. Next week, we will begin our discussion with the term “blessed”. To understand the Beatitudes, it is crucial to know what Christ means when He says “blessed”.