Some months ago I received an e-mail from a reader suggesting
that Jesus’ eight beatitudes would make a good topic for
E-spirations. As we stand at the threshold of Lent, the
timing seems just right for us to explore this teaching of
Jesus, which offers us eight attitudes for opening
ourselves to God’s saving love.
It’s interesting to note
that Jesus presents these eight attitudes immediately after
the point in Matthew’s Gospel where he has proclaimed the
good news that the Kingdom (God’s saving presence) is at
hand (see 4:23). As usual, side by side with Jesus’
proclamation (preaching) of the Kingdom comes his widespread
healing activity—his “curing every disease and illness
among the people.” The proclaiming of the Kingdom and the
healings go hand in hand, as if they are two sides of the same
Matthew tells us at this
point that a core part of Jesus’ audience are men and women
in desperate straits: “They brought to [Jesus],” Matthew
says in 4:24, “all who were sick with various diseases and
racked with pain, those who were possessed, lunatics and
paralytics, and he cured them.” On the surface, this was not
a very happy or self-satisfied group of human beings. They
were people keenly in touch with their own poverty and
fragility. And so Jesus says to them:
1. Blessed are the poor
in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was
not there to give comfort to the proud or haughty or to the
well-fed but to assure those broken in spirit that they were
truly objects of God’s saving love. We can trace this
attitude back to the poor, the anawim, of the
Old Testament—people who realize that salvation comes as a
free gift from Yahweh.
2. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be
Those who feel deeply the pain carried by loved ones or who
mourn their own sins are more likely to be in tune with the
need for God’s healing and forgiveness. In Chapter 9
of Matthew’s Gospel, a tax collector named Matthew is among
those eating with Jesus. When the question is asked: Why does
Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners? Jesus answers:
“Those who are well do not need the physician, but the sick
do” (Matthew 9:12). Only those who truly recognize and mourn
their sin see the need for God’s healing love.
3. Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
The word meek today sometimes suggests softness,
even spinelessness. The biblical meaning of meek,
however, indicates tolerance, lowliness and respect. As
Scripture scholar John P. Meier puts it, the meek “do not
push their own plans to the detriment of God’s saving
plan.” Jesus describes himself as “meek and humble of
heart,” and yet can any human match his inner strength?
Mary, too, is an example of biblical meekness. She admits her
“lowliness” and knows where her greatness comes from:
“The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is
his name” (Luke 1:49).
4. Blessed are those who
hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied. Here Jesus is saying that
those are already blessed who, aligning themselves with
God’s saving activity, are dedicated to building a world of
justice and righteousness. In such a world, everyone’s
rights will be respected. Everyone will find a place at the
banquet table and enjoy a fair share of the gifts of God’s
5. Blessed are the
merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
In the Our Father we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The Peace
Prayer of St. Francis picks up the same dynamic in these
familiar words: “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.”
And this miracle of mercy doesn’t happen just sometime in
the next life. It happens now. No sooner does our heart
imitate the mercy of God than we are shown the same gift of
6. Blessed are the clean
of heart, for they shall see God.
With the pure of heart, there is transparency. What you see is
what you get. If someone is giving you a gift, that’s what
he or she is doing. There is a singleness of aim. There is no
mixed intention or duplicitous motive. Sometimes after a
spring rain, we come across a clear puddle of water. If we
stir that puddle with a stick, it clouds up and loses its
clarity. When our motives and intentions are clouded or
dishonest, we lose our clarity of heart and our ability to see
God—and our neighbor as an image of God.
7. Blessed are the
peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
The Hebrew word shalom helps us understand the full
meaning of peace as a state wholeness and total health
and well-being. When we wish someone peace in the biblical
sense, this is what we are wishing them. When we are in tune
with God’s healing and saving love, we are peacemakers,
seeking to tear down walls of hatred, division,
misunderstanding and prejudice. As instruments of God’s
peace, we are instruments of wholeness and
reconciliation in our world. We are then true children of God.
8. [a] Blessed are those
who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven.
[b] Blessed are you when men 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 so men persecuted the prophets who were
As we look back over the eight beatitudes, we see that Jesus
is the perfect model for each of them. He, too, is blessed and
happy for the same reasons. In his book Matthew, John
P. Meier states: “Ultimately, Jesus is the completely happy
man of the beatitudes, the ‘happy attitudes.’ His
beatitudes define his own being and call others to be what he
Jesus knows he stands in
the tradition of the persecuted and martyred prophets.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone
those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your
children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings,
but you were unwilling….I tell you, you will not see me
again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of
the Lord’” (Matthew 23:37-39).
Consider Jesus riding into
Jerusalem humbly on an ass. He knows full well—even as the
crowds extol him—that he will be persecuted and destroyed by
leaders of both the church and state of his day. But he also
trusts that God is with him as he breaks through the
low-ceiling imperfection of his persecutors—and into the
saving love and happiness of God’s kingdom.