A couple of weeks ago, I heard or read someone (I no longer remember who) say, with regard to Matthew 5 verse 3, that this statement, the beginning of Jesus’ teaching which been called the The Sermon on the Mount, is not a general comment about the wrongness of poverty, but is a specific comment about those who are in poverty and suffering because of following Him. We are no longer in a position to say whether 5:3 to 7:28 constituted what we would perceive today to be a sermon, one person doing one way communication, although what we know of that culture would indicate that that was almost assuredly not the case, but that Matthew, long after this happened, presents this as a condensation of the important points of what Jesus said, as Jewish teaching allowed for dialogue by the listeners, as is shown in other places in the Gospels.
While most of the world lived in relative poverty at the time, and the Jews were an especially out of favor people group within the Roman Empire for their lack of acceptance of Roman custom with regard to religious ritual. It is also certain that the people listing to Jesus, including his disciples, had only a meager clue, at best, as to what Jesus was speaking of with this phrase—“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This isn’t just speaking about poverty, but the specific poverty that comes from, as a result of following Jesus, rejecting the world’s ways of doing things, and that system rejecting you, and was, therefore, prophetic to the New Covenant church.
The next sentence is, “Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” All of us eventually have friends and family that suffer ill health and pass away, but from the context of the previous statement, we can infer that Jesus is speaking specifically about the mourning that comes from seeing in others an aspect of what He himself would go through at the end of His human life, persecution, suffering, and dying a death in the least reputable form, with the comfort being His sending the Holy Spirit. The comfort of believers on Jesus is the Holy Spirit giving a life one cannot experience without Him, even as one is treated as society’s scum, as has been the case through most of history. Even a socially- or governmentally-sanitized form of Christianity, i.e. Christendom, has been in opposition to those who desired to follow Jesus in spirit and truth at many points in history.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” is a phrase that is nonsense outside of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. History shows us that the powerful and evil control the politics and economics. We are still to see that in the new heaven and earth of Revelation, but as we see the Spirit move in person’s lives, we get to see a small glimpse.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” This is a sentence that cannot be understood in an earthly manner. Right living does not literally fill our stomachs. Also, as Jesus’ other statements make clear, this is not any humanistic “righteousness” of relieving poverty, stopping wars, or stopping human rights abuses. Such things were happening then, and have continued here and there, and will continue. We see righteousness come about only by seeing in oneself and others the desire to obey God without care as to the human, social, and political consequences, and knowing such consequences will occur in a fallen world. For me, that is far easier to say than to do on any consistent basis without the encouragement of others mutually committed to the same, which, in turn, is far more difficult to do in a middle class neighborhood.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” In the society I live in, the word “mercy” mainly appears in R&B and jazz songs, which, in turn, have inherited it from the African-American underclass experience of the last 300 years. The latter, I am certain, had an element of its proper use, but most of the current use is just an inherited exclamation, with its true meaning gutted on the altar of capitalism, i.e. entertainment corporations. I see little mercy in how persons of Muslim background are treated in the media as the Russians before them, the Germans and Japanese before them, etc. ad nauseum. Overall, society seems generally incapable of handling mercy, as it can be replaced with greater accounting oversight in social service programs. Mercy is an attitude that comes from a desire to be Jesus’ hands and feet today.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” When I see “pure in heart,” I somehow want to take the phrase totally out of context and complain on the capitalistically-motivated sex-saturated media. But being pure in heart is far more than thoughts of sex, violence, and ill will to our currently favorite boogeymen. I know, as I get older, it is harder for me to desire that those that I most vehemently disagree with a) repent and follow Jesus, b) desire to know Him and grow in faith even such that they can teach me, and c) have a Spirit-motivated call/guidance on an individual’s life that challenges this world to God’s glory, as opposed to that person’s mere change of fame.
If I am human, then I struggle with the purity of my motives, but I must act, because if I wait until I know my motives are pure, then nothing will ever get accomplished.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” We, again, need to remember the way Jesus was speaking. Today, we wish to think of ambassadors negotiating the end of a war as peacemakers, or those protesting for a war to be ended. Whether you know such a person or not, one can easily figure out that Jesus is talking about something else. The ambassador may be motivated by money, fame, or this being a stepping stone to more political power. The protester can be more violent than the average soldier; the soldier is just doing his job, and the protester wants the war out of his way so he can foment his own revolution, and maybe even have a crop of trained mercenaries to recruit. Jesus’ peacemakers know that every human is a war front, with Jesus calling a person to change sides from original sin to His peace, and his Enemy using every distorted reason and emotion available to stay on the opposite side, not even seeing that the war for his soul exists.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Over the past couple of years, I have had a discussion with a person, who feels we believers in Jesus stretch the idea of persecution, and to a point, that person is correct. Jesus, though, further defines persecution in the next sentence. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you for My sake.” As I see it, mere gossipy, unkind, and slanderous talk is persecution. This may not apply to the world’s definition of persecution, such as a country torturing the POW’s it captures, but God’s war is bigger and longer lasting than countries that come and go. Jesus follows, “Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” When I sit here un- or under-employed because one employer after another wishes to promote, not the honest, hard-working, employee with an education in favor of the lazier employee that is willing to cheat the customer, vendor, and other employees (and, will eventually try to cheat the boss, too, who somehow couldn’t see that coming), I don’t necessarily feel like rejoicing. That’s when one must walk by faith, and not by sight.