I believe that one of the reasons there is a rise in the Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) demographic and the diminishing of traditional Christianity is because so often the focus of Christianity is not on what to do but what not to do. Whereas, what people really want is a clear path to spiritual fulfillment. This makes programs like the eight-fold path of Buddhism and the 12 steps of AA so appealing to folks. There is a clearly defined path to spiritual fulfillment which has been tried and proven millions of times.
So where is the step path in Christianity? I want to suggest to you, as have many, that the Beatitudes is such a path; a path to beatitude, which means supreme blessedness or happiness.
Happiness, in American culture, is a very shallow thing. It’s the name of a kid’s meal at McDonald’s. It’s the word that really means that our life is going the way we want it to. But Jesus is proposing a different kind of happiness; one that orders society and our lives in such a way that brings about something far greater than our small ideas for what will make us happy.
When we talk about the teachings of Jesus, we think of the parables and his various sayings, but Jesus had a stump speech that represents the culmination of his teaching. I say stump speech because Jesus went about teaching all over the place and this may have been his go to sermon. It’s most associated with a large gathering on a hill which is known as The Sermon on the Mount. Many would have heard it, and I’ve certainly heard it or read it many times. But it has always perplexed me a bit. Is it Jesus rewarding the people he is describing? Is it a social justice movement? Is it about socio-economics?
Have a look at it.
Matthew 5 New International Version (NIV)
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
On the surface, it is a description of the social order of the Kingdom of Heaven in which the last shall be first. All of the people at the bottom of society will rise to the top. It is a charge to recognize this order by how we see people and treat people. But I think there is more to it than social justice. It is, I believe, a personal spiritual path which culminates in a beatific life.
Jesus’ Beatitudes provide for us eight steps to beatitude. I believe that they are ordered and built one upon the other. It is an unfolding path, from virtue to blessing, from blessing to virtue.
The journey can be interpreted as:
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Empty yourself and become humble, then receive a share in the responsibility for God’s kingdom.
- “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Out of care for God’s world, mourn for the suffering of others and you will find comfort for your suffering.
- “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
When you are comforted, become comforting to those who are suffering in your midst and you will inherit a share responsibility with God for those who are suffering.
- “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
When you inherit responsibility for those who suffer, you recognize when suffering is unjust. You will not be satisfied with what is unrighteous in the world until righteousness wins and God satisfies you with it.
- “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
In being filled with righteousness and meekness, you will temper your zeal for righteousness with mercy, and in turn will be shown mercy.
- “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
When you receive mercy, your heart will be made pure and free from judgment and selfish intent, then you will experience the true nature of God.
- “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
When you experience the true nature of God, you will have peace and will share it with the world, then you will be called a child of God.
- “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
When you are called a child of God, you can withstand all manner of pressures to swerve from the path of righteousness, you will experience beatitude.
The culmination of these blessings is a state of supreme blessedness and happiness. We will be given the Kingdom of Heaven. And the Kingdom of Heaven is something which is “at hand”. It is happening. It is within reach of our hand through this path. And with our blessing will play our part in furthering the kingdom that Jesus has described. Beatitude is the relationship between virtues and blessings. In our virtue, God will bless us. And in our blessing we will become virtuous.
Jesus’ Way (as in the Way, the Truth, and the Life, or as in the original title of Christianity, The Way) teaches us that we are to become perfected in this way, but not on our own. It requires a relationship with God and a relationship with the world. Virtue and blessing flow from God, and do not exist outside of relationships.
The Beatitudes, like the Commandments, are the principles for ordering a new way of living for a new society (the Kingdom of God). Just as the Commandments ordered the Chosen People, the Beatitudes order the Kingdom of God. I invite you to consider joining me in this eight part study which explores a Christian approach to spiritual growth.