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.BACKGROUND
Brian Stoffregen writes on his Blog Crossmarks: “Keener (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew) notes that there are more than thirty-six discrete views about the sermon's message..” . [Among the more prominent of these views are…]
· The predominant medieval view, reserving a higher ethic for clergy, especially in monastic orders;
· Luther's view that the sermon represents an impossible demand like the law;
· the Anabaptist view, which applies the teachings literally for the civil sphere;
· Schweitzer's view that the sermon embodies an interim ethic rooted in the mistaken expectation of imminent eschatology;
· the traditional dispensational application to a future millennial kingdom…”
None of these views seem to express what the beatitudes are assumed to be by many, i.e. “practical guidelines for Christian behavior,” or “a list of rewards for those who adopt Jesus’ value-system.”
The Beatitudes form the opening part of what is called “The Sermon on the Mount”, but which probably represents not so much a "sermon" as a summary of what Jesus was teaching to his disciples and others. The passage suggests that Jesus went to the mountain in order to escape the crowds rather than to address them.
“Blessed”- Makarios (greek)= In Greek culture and tradition it referred to god-like happiness. When Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek it meant divinely-sent prosperity and status consequent upon living wisely in accordance with Jewish Law.
Both Greek and Hebrew literature contain formal examples of “beatitudes”, i.e. lists of behaviors that are associated with this status. The Gospel makes use of the usual format, but departs from both Greek and Jewish precedents when it comes to content.
The Gospel proposes a model of “blessedness” that prevails even, and especially, in circumstances defined by poverty, tragedy, and oppression… which, in earlier settings, would have been antithetical to what beatitude was thought to mean.
The first 4 Beatitudes all begin with the Greek letter “pi” and have a certain rhetorical/poetic balance. The last Beatitude switches to a form of direct address, where Jesus speaks directly to the disciples about their response to persecution and suffering.
God With Us: A Pastoral Theology of Matthew's Gospel, by Mark Allan Powell (Fortress, 1995)
Powell states: "All four of the beatitudes in the first stanza may reasonably be interpreted as promising eschatological reversals to those who are unfortunate, and some of the beatitudes in this stanza can be reasonably interpreted only in this way" [p. 122]. With this approach, these are not virtues that one should aspire to -- but they are circumstances in which people find themselves." (from Brian Stoffregen, Crossmarks)
“Poor in Spirit”- An expression peculiar to Matthew’s Gospel. In Hebrew the word anawim, “The Poor” in English, refers to those without worldly power or influence, who must rely upon God for any relief they might receive. The psalms contain many references to the suffering poor who are the ones upon whose behalf God acts, and God’s people are expected to befriend and protect.
Question: Why does Matthew have “in spirit?”
“Poor in Spirit”- Why does Matthew add “in spirit?” Perhaps this expression provides a way for disciples to understand their own extreme poverty in regard to God…not even the most extreme asceticism/self-denial can justify us to God (although voluntary renunciation of material possessions can remove obstacles to our understanding)… every human being comes to God in a position of total dependence, emptiness, and helplessness…i.e. “poor in spirit?”
“Those who mourn”- not a matter of being gloomy and negative… Jesus and his disciples were criticized for enjoying themselves too much at parties… this Beatitude does not refer to mourning as a virtue to be cultivated so much as a human condition that is the consequence of having loved. The only people who never grieve are the ones who don’t care.
“The meek”- this Beatitude does not necessarily commend an attitude of deliberate victimhood. In the Bible, “the meek” are those who find themselves in a powerless position, at least in terms of worldly power. Psalm 37:11 says, “But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight in abundant prosperity.”
“Pure in heart”-Here and elsewhere in the bible kardia seems simply to represent "the true self," what one really is, apart from pretense. Thus, to "understand with the heart" (13:15) means to understand truly; to "forgive from the heart" (18:35) means to forgive truly; and so on. [Powell, p. 132].
Jesus proposes to build a kingdom where those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” will no longer be oppressed and beaten down, but will be God’s agents in a kingdom based upon mercy, purity of heart, and peacefulness.