Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Happy are the Miserable: Thoughts on the Beatitudes

What does “poor in spirit” really mean? Or the “pure in heart”? Frankly, what does “blessed” mean? Let’s examine the context and see if we can find it out.  

Lucky Bloke! 
First of all, the term “blessed.” In the Greek, it literally means “happy” and its root in Hebrew literally means “to walk straight”. However, in most contexts this phrase means, “You lucky dog!” It means that the person is fortunate, is lucky in some way. This doesn’t mean that they are blessed by “luck”. All of the promises Jesus offers are actually blessings that God would grant. So the object of Jesus acclaim is the lucky receiver of God’s grace, God’s blessing, the good fortune that comes directly from God.

What kind of rewards are these folks promised? The coming kingdom of God. Of having all of their needs met. Of being in a close relationship with God. Of being content with their lot. This is really good stuff, these promises. Especially if you don’t have your needs met— and who does?

But these folks aren’t just lucky because they are getting good stuff in the future. Also, they are essential to the present. Jesus says that these folks are essential for the world as it is. Without these folks, the world is lacking something necessary for survival. These people of God are like your daily nutrition intake— without them, the world would starve spiritually. The world would be empty, lifeless, hopeless, merciless.  

The Uncommon Christian 
So just who are these important folks? Essential for life today, and the recipients of tomorrow’s hope? Jesus describes them in detail. First, let’s find out what Jesus thinks are the basics of discipleship.

If we are going to follow Jesus, what should we look like?
 Pure in heart— We should be ready not just to look good on Sundays, to claim to believe the right things and to avoid the really bad sins that makes us bad people. Actually, Jesus wants us to be inwardly right with God— confessing our sin and devoted to God in all of our ways. Our prayer and religious deeds are just outward show, but we sincerely are seeking a relationship with God.  

Merciful— Jesus expects us to be compassionate as He was compassionate on earth. His disciples need to be loving to everyone, even those who bug us! He wants us ready to help anyone and everyone in need, even when inconvenient.  

Peacemakers— Jesus expects us to be active in reconciling people to God, to each other and to life. He expect us to be a part of creating a society that is just and right with God, even if that society has to be apart from the world.   We don’t see many Christians like this today. But the church keeps producing folks like this, and these are the heart of the church— heck, they are the heart of the entire world! And they will receive God’s promises for the future.  

The Big Surprise 
But in the Beatitudes, we are still skipping one part— the most amazing, fantastic, mind-blowing concept of Jesus. He saved it for the very beginning of his teaching, to emphasize its importance. Nevertheless, it is something we have a hard time getting a grasp of. These lucky folks, these fortunate few, these salt-of-the-earth, these essential daily vitamins are also the rejects of society.  

Poor in spirit— These are the ones who are anguished due to their poverty, and suffer greatly because of their lack of normal life.  

Mourning— These are those who have suffered great loss and so mourn due to it.

Meek— These are the ones who have nothing in this life to depend on and don’t have a leg to stand on to get justice in their lives.  

Hungering and Thirsting for Justice— These are the ones who are desperately seeking justice because all they have received is injustice and rejection.  

Persecuted— These are the ones who have been rejected and hated and beaten and despised and treated as outcasts.  

Why are these great folks treated so poorly? Why do they suffer so? Some of them suffer because they just aren’t accepted. But most of them aren’t accepted because they stand with Jesus. Because they insist on being right with God in their heart more than their social standing. Because they insist on being merciful, even when it hurts themselves. Because to reconcile people when they want to continue in hatred is dangerous and a hated profession. Because the one who talks about Jesus is readily accepted— but the one who acts like Jesus is easily rejected.  

No Big Surprise 
Although we have great shock at first that the very folks God accepts are those the world rejects, we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, look at who God chooses:  

  • He chose Noah who was rejected by his neighbors because he did what God told him to.   
  • He chose Abraham, but only after Abraham set aside the inheritance of his father’s house.   
  • He chose Joseph, but the man had to suffer hatred, slavery, jail time and people forgetting him before he received God’s promise.
  • He chose the children of Israel, but they had to endure years of slavery and genocide and desert-wandering before they were ready for God’s promise.   
  • He chose David, but the future king had to be threatened and chased all over the wilderness before he received God’s promise.   
  • He chose Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but they had to be ignored and rejected their whole lives, only to not receive the promise.   
  • He chose Jesus, who had to be condemned, judged and crucified before he was vindicated.   

Honesty, if we look at the Bible as a whole, we can finally understand that God’s people always have to face the worst difficulties before receiving what God has in store for them. In Hebrew there is a special name for these folks— people who suffer rejection and poverty, but still expect God to deliver them— they are called Anawim.

God has always— without exception— given his promise of blessing to the Anawim. And it is the Anawim who are God’s chosen.  

Psalm 22: 24— God has not abhorred the oppression of the Anawim, nor has he hidden his face from them; But when they cried to Him for help, he listened to them.

 I Samuel 2: 8— He raises the poor from the dust; He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles.  

Psalm 37: 11— The Anawim will receive the land and live in abundant prosperity

God has always focused on the needy who live for him, and He always will.   So how should we treat God’s special chosen? How should we treat the homeless who are standing with God? How should we act toward the working poor, crying out to God for justice? We should treat them as God does— with honor, with respect, with assistance. We should listen not only to their needs, but their counsel. After all, how we treat these folks is how we will be treated on the final day!  

The lowly and poor are chosen by God to be His people.

This is a chapter of the book Long Live the Riff Raff! by Steven Kimes.  You can purchase it for the Amazon Kindle, on your PC or your Kindle.

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