I admit it. My relatively comfortable life in America gave me a distorted lens through which I used to read the Beatitudes, the opening salvo in Jesus’ longest recorded teaching in the New Testament. Jesus said things like “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3) and I would think, “There are some words of consolation from Jesus if poverty happens to me. It’s nice to have these promises of God in the bank, just in case poverty or any of the other conditions listed in the Beatitudes comes to pass in my life.”
I know that’s not what he said. And I know that Jesus wasn’t speaking in terms of a fall-back plan or a spiritual rainy day fund. He was describing what his kingdom would look like in this world until his return, says Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was describing the cruciform life. He was describing himself.
I’m blogging my way through Bonhoeffer’s classic The Cost of Discipleship. (To read earlier posts in this series, click here.)
…we naturally ask if there is any place on this earth for the community which they describe. Clearly, there is one place, and only one, and that is where the poorest, meekest, and most sorely tried of all men is to be found – on the cross at Golgotha. The fellowship of the beatitudes is the fellowship of the Crucified.
Bonhoeffer notes that those who would renounce the world in order to try to live the kind of excruciatingly impossible life Jesus describes in these words are missing his point. So are those like me who see in these words a safety net if things go south in their lives. In both cases, he notes, error resides in “looking for some kind of human behavior as the ground for the beatitude instead of the call and promise of Jesus alone.”)
This is his kingdom:
- Members of his body on earth are poor in spirit because they have “no security, no possessions to call their own, not even a foot of earth to call their home, no earthly society to claim their absolute allegiance.”
- They are mourners because they “do not shake off sorrow as though it were no concern of its own, but willingly bear it. And in this way they show how close are the bonds which bind them to all humanity.”
- They are powerless because who now rule the earth have done so by violence and injustice. “The powerless here and now received a plot of earth, for they have the Church and its fellowship, its goods, its brothers and sisters, in the midst of persecutions even to the length of the cross.” He notes that the renewal of the earth begins at the cross, and when the kingdom comes in fulness at the return of Jesus, the meek will possess the earth.
- They hunger and thirst for righteousness by renouncing their rights and their own righteousness, foregoing praise for achievements or sacrifices, and are fulfilled instead by the one who is Bread of Life.
- They have renounced their own dignity in order to live a life of mercy, willingly choosing “the distress and humiliation and sin of others” in order to clothe them with honor.
- They are “undefiled by their own evil – and by their own virtues too.”
- They are told not only to receive God’s peace, but to pursue peace with those at war with God by “enduring suffering themselves rather than inflict(ing) it on others.”
- They are persecuted for their faithfulness because the world is offended by them. “It is important that Jesus gives his blessing not merely to suffering incurred directly for the confession of his name, but to suffering in any just cause. They receive the same promise as the poor, for in persecution they are their equals in poverty.”
The Beatitudes describe Jesus’ earthly life. And ours, when we live into what he alone can give us.
Reflect: In what ways have you been tempted to treat the Beatitudes as either a spiritual aspiration or a rainy day fund if life heads south?
Prayer: Messiah Jesus, your life not only modeled the Beatitudes, but was the Beatitudes. You showed us what a blessed life looks like, and it doesn’t look like a bail-out plan or a selection of lovely parting gifts. It looks like the self-emptying life of the manger and the self-giving love of the cross. I can not offer you a Beatitudes-imprinted life, but I can receive yours, and I want to do so.