Summary of Matthew 5:1-11
Crowds of people are now following Jesus. He begins to talk to them about the Kingdom of God, starting with who is "blessed" and why.
Detailed Thoughts about Matthew 5:1-11
For this series I’m reading the Contemporary English Version, which is a version of the Bible I’ve never read. Like most evangelicals, I’m familiar with the Sermon on the Mount and what is called the Beatitudes: “Blessed are they that (blank), for they shall (blank).” The CEV words it like this: “God blesses those people who (blank); they (blank).” It’s a little jarring, but that’s probably a good thing.
Even with the new wording, the structure remains the same. As a technical writer, my first instinct is to take this text and create a table with two columns: Directive and Outcome. (A software engineer might convert them to IF-THEN statements.) I hesitate to frame it this way for a couple of reasons. First, the story of Job shows that good behavior doesn’t always mean happy outcomes. (Life itself is a stern teacher of THAT lesson.) Second, I’m looking at Jesus’ teachings as the description of God’s Kingdom. The teachings are counter-intuitive to how the world operates, including (especially?) religious institutions. Currently we don’t live in the Kingdom of God; although, I do recall that somewhere in the Bible it says the Kingdom of God is being built in our hearts. That’s good news. I think that’s why the phrase “be the change you want to see” has resonated with me. In other words, live as if we are currently residing in the Kingdom of God on earth.
On to the text. The directives that resonate most with me are:
- God blesses those people who are humble
- God blesses those people who are merciful
- God blesses those people who make peace
I see great value in these virtues and actions. I can also see how they can be used by people in power to coerce people into submission. Perhaps that’s why the Bible gives many warnings and frowns to “false teachers.” What is remarkable is when you see these traits of humility, mercy, and peace-making being practiced by people who are whole. I don’t think Jesus is speaking about people who are submissive to the point of being disengaged. He isn’t lauding those who find it easier to submit to the teachings of a certain pastor or denomination than to practice authentic self-reflection and truth-seeking. That kind of submission can seem like humility or peace-making, but with whom are we making peace? With whom are we being humble and merciful? Certainly not those who disagree with said pastor or denomination! The three people I think of most when I consider these beatitudes are Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, and Mother Theresa. Each was a strong and intelligent person; each committed to justice, mercy and peace. They were also humble in that they were unwilling to display violence in word or deed.
The directives which didn’t resonate with me at first, but are starting to gain some traction, are:
- God blesses those people who depend only on God
- God blesses those people who grieve
- God blesses those people who want to obey him more than to eat or drink
- God blesses those people whose hearts are pure
- God blesses those people who are treated badly for doing right
Let me tackle the first one. I honestly don’t know what it means anymore to “depend on God” let alone “depend only on God.” I think, for me, there is still so much baggage associated with that phrase. The first meaning was depending on God alone for salvation from hell. But it was also a mantra that I used often in everyday life. In my small world, depending on God meant that I asked him to give me strength to do homework, to not masturbate, to do my daily devotions, to not feel socially awkward, to witness for him on the street, to “fix” my “broken sexuality,” to win a race at a track meet, to feel better about how I looked, and so on. It was so vague and so behavioral. So, at this point, I still don’t know what it really means to depend only on God. Depend only on God for what, exactly? I think I have a mental block for this one.
Moving on to people who grieve and people whose hearts are pure: I can understand grieving in the sense that there are some awful, awful things in this world. In addition to our own existential sadness and dread, we have various pockets of hell on earth: poverty, violence, diseases, war, cruelty, betrayal, horror. Yeah, this one I completely get. There is too much about which to grieve. I am glad that the outcome is that they will find comfort! It gives me hope that the people who suffer such atrocity in this world, no matter who they are, have something better ahead of them.
As for hearts that are pure: that seems to be hearts that are authentic. Again, this resonates. How can we really connect with and love each other if we aren’t able to be our authentic selves? Even in my fundamentalist days, when a “pure heart” meant sexual purity only, I had a sense that Jesus was speaking of something deeper than physical lust. The outcome of this directive is especially interesting: they will see him (God). So the outcome implies that a pure heart is also an authentic longing for God and God’s Kingdom.
As for those people who want to obey him more than to eat or drink: I can understand this in the sense that I want to see justice done in the world. I want to do the things that bring this idea of God’s Kingdom closer to reality. But similar to the first beatitude, this one carries some baggage. “Obeying God” can mean so many different things according to who’s around you!
The last two verses of the passage have to do with being treated badly, being insulted and slandered, because of Jesus. I think anyone reading these verses wants to think that it is they who are being treated badly. People hate me and misunderstand me and tell lies about me because I believe (blank)! I think the Western culture (the Christian culture in particular) has made a kind of fetish with martyrdom. Even though Christians make up the majority of the population in America, and every single American President has been a professing Christian, we still have a sense that we are persecuted. Yes, there are mean and hurtful people out there; but persecution is going a bit far. Plus, Jesus and the prophets were persecuted by religious leaders of the day more than any other group. Honestly, since Jesus lived and died, there has been so much atrocity done in his name that it’s very difficult to pinpoint when someone is being treated badly because of actually following Jesus, or for more nuanced reasons. My opinion? The blessing is for those who are actually doing the work of Jesus—such as helping the poor and oppressed—and being treated badly for it, rather than those who are treated badly because they are trying to sell a worldview.
Now that I’ve written more about the other beatitudes, I have an idea about the first one (the one about depending only on God). Perhaps it means depending only on God for doing all these things that are necessary to live as a true citizen of the Kingdom of God? Maybe? The outcome is: “they belong to the kingdom of heaven.“ Thoughts on this still spinning around the ol’ noggin….
Whew. I had a feeling once I reached the Sermon on the Mount, these blog posts were going to get denser. I hope you find some good in reading these posts, but more than that I hope it inspires you to read the Gospels for yourself.