8th January 2021
It could well be said of our Lord Jesus Christ that the Beatitudes represent the heart of His message. The Beatitudes are at the heart of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount which is, in turn, at the heart of His entire life.
If the birth of Christ represents the dawn of a new age of grace and truth for mankind, and if the cross and resurrection represent the climax of Christ’s mission, then we may say truly that Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (St Matthew, chapters 5-7) is at the centre of His life—yes, at the very heart of His message.
Who can fathom the depth and beauty and glory of the Beatitudes? We speak in human words and we understand things in human concepts, but the Beatitudes embody the wisdom, love, and power of God.
For just as God came down from heaven when He spoke with Moses, heard His peoples’ cry of oppression, and freely chose to deliver them out of Egypt and into “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3: 7,8), so too did the Son of God descend from heaven, take on human nature, and freely chose to deliver His people from the darkness of sin and death and into an eternal heaven of peace, joy, and life.
Nowhere do we find this free gift of God so beautifully and so eloquently embodied as in the Beatitudes of Christ.
For Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) Christ mentions no condition, cost, or qualification. He simply says that “the poor in spirit” will be given “the kingdom of heaven.”
The Lord seems to be saying that He wants to give these souls everything for nothing which, according to a human way of thinking, defies all logic.
So we might ask, what does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?
It has often been said that poverty of the spirit equates to detachment, but I would like to take a different approach.
Consider, on the face of it, that the “riches” of the spirit are peace, joy, love, patience, kindness, humility, purity, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and others of the like. Now let’s read that verse again with this same thought in mind:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
Christ seems to be saying: “Blessed are those who have no peace, for they will be given the peace of heaven. Blessed are those who have no joy, for they will be given the joy of the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who are not loved, for they will find the love of their eternal Father in heaven.”
The Lord’s face emerges ever more clearly and distinctly in His words.
If we fail to recognise how extreme and radical is this promise of Christ, I think we will miss the actual meaning of His words. Think about this: no one in the world of human affairs expects to be given everything for nothing.
Yet here the Lord seems to be saying that those who are the most impoverished, the most abject, the most abandoned—it is precisely these who will be given the riches of the spiritual world, the joys and blessings and graces of the kingdom of heaven.
Though these words of Christ seem to defy human reason and common sense, we have to ask, why would God choose to give us everything for nothing? Is it really true?
After all, Jesus said: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?” (Matthew 16:24-26)
This looks like a contradiction—it looks like the Lord is saying that the price for eternal life is the imitation of Christ: “…let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
But it is not a true contradiction.
If we reflect that nothing a man or woman can do can actually merit the reward of an eternal life of love and glory with God, this begins to make sense. The gift of eternal life is not a reward for our deeds–for nothing we can achieve, humanly speaking, is worthy of the free gift of God.
Christ asks us to imitate Him, not in order to earn our reward in heaven, but so that, through cooperation with His will, we may find His friendship and find ourselves transformed into His likeness, ready and well disposed to enter heaven.
The Lord can only dispose us for heaven with our cooperation (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18); He cannot do so without our cooperation. As Saint Augustine said, “The God who created you without your consent will not save you without your consent.”
The gift of eternal life and the eternal glory and happiness of heaven remains a free gift. God gives us everything for nothing. We can say in truth that we do not deserve and can never earn such infinite kindness on the part of our Lord and God. And this still defies all human logic.
But if we consider that we were created out of nothing by the hand of God, that He freely brought us into existence and called us into His friendship, that He loves us with a divine Love because we are the work of His hands, that He owes us nothing but wants to give us everything, then we might begin to understand the divine “Logic” of the Beatitudes.
All that Jesus asks is that we open our hearts to Him, that we believe in Him, that we allow Him to love, save, and sanctify the creatures whom the Father has given to His only begotten Son.
And now, if we read them again with this kind of “Logic” in mind, we might enter a little more deeply in the beauty and glory and majesty that shines from the Beatitudes:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so they persecuted the prophets that were before you.”