Someone said that in all the furor to post the Ten Commandments in courthouses and on city lawns, that perhaps what we ought to post in our courts of law would be the Beatitudes instead. “Blessed are the merciful” might read differently on the wall of a criminal court, don’t you think? But then, we couldn’t do that, some would argue; that would simply be impractical. It wouldn’t fit in that place; that is a place of law, not grace.
And that is just the problem with the Beatitudes. They aren’t really practical. Some argue they are impossible. How in the world are we supposed to live up to that kind of standard? It is not within us to capture all these elements, no matter how great our desire. So, do the Beatitudes function like the law? Do they simply show us how far short we fall from what we are supposed to be? Do they layer guilt upon guilt on us so that we turn in utter despair to the Savior, confessing our complete worthlessness?
That is how some have presented these verses—a measuring rod for entrance into the kingdom of God. But if that is true, then why did Jesus introduce each verse with the word “blessed”? Actually, the word is Maka,rioi (makarioi), which can also be translated as “happy.” You’ve seen that before. Happy are those who... It could even be translated as “blissful.” It doesn’t seem to me that Jesus would set us up for layers of guilt and then use the word “blissful” to describe the condition we can’t reach.
So, maybe these aren’t law. Maybe the Beatitudes are something other than a challenge to better living, or - as some have presented them - a psychology of happiness. Maybe they are something more.
What if Jesus began his teaching ministry with a word of encouragement instead of an impossible standard to attain? In the previous chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, before the Sermon on the Mount begins, an amazing number of events transpire. Chapter four begins with the temptation in the wilderness, where Jesus declares the kind of Messiah he intends to be - to himself, to God, to Satan, to all of us. Then he returns and calls together the community of followers within which he will work his earthly ministry. Finally, he teaches and heals and draws increasingly larger crowds. And then chapter five lets us know his teaching. But in between the wilderness and the calling of the disciples, he makes this statement: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (4:17). And “repent” in this case isn’t “shame on you,” but rather, “get on board, turn around and follow me.”
What if the Beatitudes were a snapshot of the community of faith instead of a measuring rod? What if Jesus was saying, Blessed is the community who makes room for peacemakers? Blessed is the community who makes room for the meek, for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, who are poor in spirit. Blessed is the community who makes room those who mourn at the brokenness of the world, who is unstained by the impurity of the world. Blessed is the community who knows persecution is inevitable and still decides to make room for those the world thinks are unimportant.”
Jesus was getting out the albums and inviting us to look again and see who we are, see what is among us. He was opening those folders we had forgotten and showing us our true selves. Sure, there is a call here as well; I’m not dismissing that. But it is not an impossible call because it is already among us in the community of faith. We learn from one another because we are gifted; we are blessed in different ways.
So, take a look at the snapshot of the community of faith. You might be surprised at how blessed you are.