“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus Christ gave us the eight Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. The Ten Commandments, given to Moses on Mount Sinai in the Old Testament Book of Exodus, related a series of “Thou shalt not” phrases, evils one must avoid in daily life on earth. In contrast, the message of Jesus is one of humility, charity, and brotherly love. He teaches transformation of the inner person. Jesus presented the Beatitudes in a positive sense, virtues in life which will ultimately lead to reward. Love becomes the motivation for the Christian. All of the Beatitudes promise us salvation – not in this world, but in the next. The Beatitudes initiate one of the main themes of Matthew’s Gospel, that the Kingdom so long awaited in the Old Testament is not of this world, but of the next, the Kingdom of Heaven.
While the Beatitudes of Jesus provide a way of life that promises salvation, they also provide peace in the midst of our trials and tribulations on this earth.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Poor in spirit” means to be humble. Humility is the realization that all your gifts and blessings come from the grace of God. To have poverty of spirit means to be completely empty and open to the Word of God. When we are an empty cup and devoid of pride, we are humble. Humility brings an openness and an inner peace, allowing one to do the will of God. He who humbles himself is able to accept our frail nature, to repent, and to allow the grace of God to lead us to Conversion.
“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
If we are humble and appreciate that all of our gifts and blessings come from God, we grow in love and gratitude for Jesus Christ our Savior. But this can only produce mourning and regret over our own sins and the sins of this world, for we have hurt the one who has been so good to us. One also mourns for the suffering of others. Mourning in this context is called a blessing, because mourning our fallen nature creates in us a desire to improve ourselves and to do what is right.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa taught that the Beatitudes build one upon another. A humble person becomes meek, or becomes gentle and kind, and exhibits a docility of spirit, even in the face of adversity and hardship. A person that is meek is one that exhibits self-control. St. Augustine advised Christians to be meek in the face of the Lord, and not resist but be obedient to him.
“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Justice and righteousness indicate the fulfillment of God’s will with your heart. It is not mere observance of the law (Matthew 5:20), but rather an expression of brotherly love (I John 3:10). A continuous desire for justice and moral perfection will lead one to a fulfillment of that desire – a transition and conversion to holiness. This is true for all the virtues – if you hunger and thirst for temperance, you will head towards the goal you have in mind. St. Augustine called the Beatitudes the ideal for every Christian life.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
Mercy is the loving disposition towards those who suffer distress. Love, compassion, and forgiveness towards one’s neighbor will bring peace in your relationships. We say in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. As we are merciful to others, so our Heavenly Father will be merciful with us. Jesus reminds us that whatever “you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me (Matthew 25:31-46).” Paul calls for the obedience of faith in the beginning and end of his Letter to the Romans (1:5, 16:25-27).
“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”
Moses (Exodus 33:20), John 1:18, and Paul (I Timothy 6:16) all say that no one can see God here on earth. But Jesus says the pure of heart shall see God. To be pure of heart means to be free of all selfish intentions and self-seeking desires. What a beautiful goal. How many times have any of us performed an act perfectly free of any personal gain? Such an act is pure love. An act of pure and selfless giving brings happiness to all.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
Peacemakers not only live peaceful lives but also try to bring peace and friendship to others, and to preserve peace between God and man. St. Gregory of Nyssa calls a peacemaker a man who brings peace to another; but one cannot give another what one does not possess oneself. Hence the Lord wants you first to be yourself filled with the blessings of peace and then to communicate it to those who have need of it. By imitating God’s love of man, the peacemakers become children of God.
“Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
The biblical passage continues to elaborate: “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). Jesus said many times that those who follow Him will be persecuted. “If they persecute me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20-21).
The Beatitudes have always been one of my favorite passages in the Bible. I think too many people do not heed the words of the Sermon on the Mount, but they should. It is the core of Christ’s teachings. As humans we are far too often prideful, selfish, and even quick to anger, even if it is something that is only in our hearts and minds. Therefore, the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes that introduce it, are difficult things for humanity to accomplish, but we can try. We can do our best to be meek, giving, and loving, for those things are what are necessary for eternal life.