Like many others, I preached on the Beatitudes last Sunday. I don’t know how seriously they are taken by most Christians, but it took me many years to come to an adequate understanding of them. My memory of how they were taught and preached when I was young is rife with sugary sentimentality more suitable for display on cross-stitched samplers than anything else. If Jesus said that the poor in spirit, mourners, peacemakers and others were blessed in some particular way, then he was describing people who were not me nor anyone I knew. They were abstractions to be honored in an abstract way.
I’m not sure when it occurred to me that they were not descriptions but instructions, and two part instructions at that.
The first part has to do with being blessed. How can anyone be blessed unless they receive a blessing, and how are they to receive that blessing unless through the presence of another bearing it in God’s name? Who would that other be if not followers of Jesus continuing the work of Jesus as members of the body of Christ, his church?
The poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the ones who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted for righteousness sake cannot be blessed unless the followers of Jesus recognize who they are and bring God’s blessing into their lives. Doing that may not always be the safest thing to do, which is why Jesus offers his personal blessing to them when they are reviled for doing it. Suddenly the Beatitudes began to look less sugary sentimental. Not being an experienced bearer of God’s blessings, but being quite experienced at lazy Christianity, and not understanding what meek meant anyway (see Deirdre Good’s Jesus the Meek King), I wondered if there might be a plan B.
There isn’t. There is another plan A, and it’s more difficult that the first plan A. It seems that Jesus not only instructs us to be bearers of blessings into the lives of others, but he also instructs us to be among those who are humble in spirit and demeanor, to mourn for this fallen world and our part in it, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart (whatever that means), to be peacemakers, to be willing to be persecuted for righteousness sake, to be persons of integrity.
With that there is not one drop of sentimentality left in the Beatitudes. They are hard. They demand commitment. They are not suggestions, they are imperatives. They are not about some abstract others, they are about us, individually and specifically. Rats! How did that happen? I am marginally less lazy as a follower of Jesus than I was when I was young. I still wonder now and then if there might be a plan B.