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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Blessed Are You (Beautitudes)

All Saints Day


Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.


He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:1-12


Anyone who has even a little knowledge of Jesus’ teachings must be familiar with the beatitudes with which the Sermon on the Mount begins. The beatitudes describe the varied character of Christian people. These are not eight separate and distinct groups of Christians, some of whom are meek, while others are merciful and still others are called upon to endure persecution. No, they’re eight qualities of Christians who, at one and the same time, are meek and merciful, poor in spirit and pure in heart, mourning and hungry, peacemakers and persecuted.


And besides that, the people spoken of are not a special group, a small aristocracy remote from the common run of Christians. No, the beatitudes are Jesus' own specification of what every Christian ought to be. All of these qualities are to characterize all of His followers. Just as the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit, (Gal. 5:22,23) which Paul lists in his letter to the Galatians, is to ripen in every Christian character, so the eight beatitudes in Jesus’ sermon describe His ideal for every citizen of the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit works to have all of these Christian graces in all of us.


Of course, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we don’t measure up to any of Jesus’ beatitudes, but that’s one of their purposes, namely to show Christians how to live to please God.


I’m going to comment briefly on the first seven beatitudes, and then elaborate a bit on the eighth one, since we’re celebrating All Saints Day and commemorating the faithful departed.


To be “poor in spirit” is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty – we could say spiritual bankruptcy – before God. For we are sinners, under the holy wrath of God, and deserving nothing but the judgement of God. But – to the poor in spirit, and only to the poor in spirit, is given the Kingdom of Heaven!


It appears from the context that when Jesus speaks of “those who mourn” He’s speaking of the sorrow of repentance, the loss of our innocence through sin. It’s one thing to be spiritually poor and acknowledge it; it’s another to grieve and to mourn over it. In other words, confession is one thing, contrition is another. And “the greatest of all comfort is the absolution pronounced upon every contrite, mourning sinner.” (Lenski)


The “meek” people, Jesus says, will inherit the earth. We would expect the opposite, that the tough and overbearing would trample the meek underfoot. But we enter into our spiritual inheritance in Christ through meekness, not through might, and if we are Christ’s, everything is ours.


Righteousness in the Bible has at least three aspects: legal righteousness, or justification before God; moral righteousness, the righteousness of character and conduct; and social righteousness, as we care for our fellow man. And those who hunger and thirst for such righteousness are filled and satisfied by God.


“Mercy” is compassion for people in need. “Mercy deals with what we see of pain, misery, and distress, the results of sin.” (Lenski) Our God is a merciful God and shows mercy continuously; the citizens of His Kingdom must show mercy too. And those who show mercy, find it!


J.B. Phillips defines the “pure in heart” as those who are “utterly sincere, whose whole life, both public and private, is transparent before God and men.” Luther, of course, puts it more down to earth, literally: “Though a common laborer, a shoemaker or a blacksmith may be dirty and sooty, or may smell because he is covered with dirt and pitch,… and though he stinks outwardly, inwardly he is pure incense before God because he ponders the Word of God in his heart, and obeys it.”


“Peacemakers” do a divine work, for peace means reconciliation, and God is the author of peace and reconciliation. But the peace of God is not peace at any price. He made peace with us at a tremendous cost – the life-blood of His only Son. So we too, in our lesser ways, will find peace-making to be costly – but worthwhile – for peacemakers will be called sons and daughters of God!


And then Jesus speaks the eighth and last beatitude, one with a double “blessed.” Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in Heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”


Are you familiar with “Foxes Book of Martyrs”? It’s a book well worth reading. I’ll read some parts about the Apostles: “After the martyrdom of Stephen, suffered next James the holy apostle of Christ, and brother of John… beheaded A.D. 36.


Thomas preached to the Parthians, Medes and Persians… He suffered in Calamina, a city of India, being slain with a dart.


Simon, who was brother to Jude… was crucified in a city of Egypt in the time of Trajan the Emperor.


Simon the apostle, called Zelotes (or the zealot) preached in Mauritania and in the country of Africa, and in Britain; he was likewise crucified.


Mark, the evangelist and first Bishop of Alexandria, preached the Gospel in Egypt, and there, drawn with ropes unto the fire, was burnt, and afterwards buried in a place there called “Bucolus,” under the reign of Trajan the Emperor.


Bartholomew is said also to have preached to the Indians, and to have translated the Gospel of St. Matthew into their tongue. At last in Albinopolis, a city of greater Armenia, after diverse persecutions, he was beaten down with staves, then crucified; and after, being skinned, he was beheaded.


Of Andrew the apostle and brother to Peter writes Jerome… He was buried in Patrae, a city of Achaia, being crucified by Aegeas, the Governor of the Edessenes.


Matthew, otherwise named Levi, first born of a publican made an apostle, wrote his Gospel to the Jews in the Hebrew tongue. After he had converted to the faith Ethiopia and all Egypt, Hircanus their king sent one to run him through with a spear.


Philip, the holy apostle, after he had much labored among the barbarous nations in preaching the word of salvation to them, at length suffered in Hierapolis, a city of Phrygia, being there crucified and stoned to death.


Of James, the brother of the Lord, thus we read: the Scribes and Pharisees did set James on the battlements of the temple and threw him down. Yet he was not killed by the fall, but, turning, fell upon his knees, saying, “O Lord God, Father, I beseech thee to forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they took him to smite him with stones. A fuller took an instrument, wherewith they did use to beat and purge cloth, and smote the just man on his head; and so he finished his testimony. And they buried him in the same place.


Under the intolerable cruelty of Nero… among many other saints, the blessed apostle Peter was condemned to death and crucified. Jerome saith that he was crucified, his head being down and his feet upward, himself so requiring, because he was, he said, unworthy to be crucified after the same form and manner as the Lord was.


Paul, the apostle, after his great travail and unspeakable labors in promoting the Gospel of Christ, suffered also in this first persecution under Nero. The soldiers came and led him out of the city to the place of execution, where he, after his prayers were made, gave his neck to the sword.”


And so “they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”


It may seem strange that Jesus would go from peacemaking to persecution, from the work of reconciliation to the experience of hostility. But no matter how hard we may try to make peace with some people, they refuse to live at peace with us. Not all attempts at reconciliation succeed. In fact, some decide to oppose us, and even slander us.


How did Jesus expect His disciples to react under persecution? “Rejoice and be glad,” He says. Is He kidding? No, He’s telling us not to get even like an unbeliever, nor to sulk like a child, nor to lick our wounds in self-pity like a dog, nor to just grin and bear it like a Stoic, nor still less to pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What, then? We’re to rejoice as a Christian should rejoice. Why? Well, partly because Jesus added, “because great is your reward in Heaven.” We may lose everything on earth, but we’ll still inherit everything in Heaven! And we’re to rejoice partly because persecution is a token of being genuine, sort of a certificate of being a genuine Christian, “for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”


Few men of this century have understood better the inevitability of suffering than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He never wavered in his Christian opposition to the Nazi regime, although it meant for him imprisonment, the threat of torture, danger to his family, and finally death. He was executed by the direct order of Heinrich Himmler in April of 1945, in the Flossenburg concentration camp, only a few days before it was liberated. It was the fulfilment of what he had always believed and taught: “Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master… Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, so it’s not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact, it is a joy and a token of His grace.”


I don’t know about you, but my faith pales in the presence of a man like Bonhoeffer!


The ways of God seem upside-down to us. God exalts the humble, and humbles the proud; calls the first last and the last first; ascribes greatness to the servant; sends the rich away empty-handed; and declare the meek to be His heirs. The kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God are at loggerheads with each other.


So Jesus congratulates those whom the world most pities, and calls the world’s rejects “blessed.” Dare we pray that Jesus calls us “blessed”? I hope so!


Amen

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