TWO QUESTIONS ABOUT TEACHING THE BEATITUDESby Roger Severino
Last week’s and this week’s JourneyOn Today devotionals relate to meditating on the Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the beatitudes. Here are two questions to consider as you read, apply, and possibly teach the beatitudes to others.
- Are the beatitudes descriptive or prescriptive? In other words, is Jesus saying we should pursue being poor in spirit, mourning, being gentle, being hungry and thirsty for righteousness, being merciful, being pure in heart, etc.? Or, is Jesus simply describing the people who are characterized by these things as blessed, even though the world does not see them that way? Is Jesus telling us a way to live, or pronouncing an unsuspected blessing on people who are often not seen as blessed? I tend to go with a middle way that includes both. I think there is spiritual benefit in recognizing our poverty in spirit, mourning over our sin and rebellious heart, leading us to hunger and thirst for righteousness, etc. At the same time, I do think that Jesus is turning our world upside-down by highlighting the potential blessings of those who are not “powerful” in our society.
- Is there a sequence or connection between these various characteristics in the beatitudes? Or, does each characteristic stand alone, or only have a marginal connection to the others? I lean toward there being a potential sequence in the beatitudes, though I don’t want to press it too far. I don’t want to suggest that Jesus was giving a formula – step 1, 2, 3, etc. – and yet there does seem to be a certain flow in the beatitudes in my opinion. Those who recognize their poverty of spirit and need for change will mourn over their unrighteousness, which will cause them to be gentle, and create a hunger and thirst for righteousness. This sequence will naturally lead toward being merciful (as we understand God’s mercy toward us) and desire to be pure in heart (part of hungering and thirsting for righteousness); we seek peace, even in a world that persecutes us for righteousness’ sake. The beatitudes sound nice and palatable, like something you would cross-stitch, and yet, like the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, incredibly challenging to live out – really impossible, apart from God’s enabling.