WebDef: Beatitudes – Jesus' Eight Happinesses

Beatitude /bēˈadəˌt(y)o͞od/- Noun: State of supreme happiness or blessedness.

In addition to teaching through is own example of loving, nonviolent service, Jesus' main teaching came in the form of questions, parables and a few large public sermons. The Gospel of Matthew sums up Jesus' official teaching in The Sermon on the Mount. Inside this sermon are the Beatitudes, or Jesus' "Eight Happinesses," a mysterious roadmap to deep joy. The following is from the Gospel of Matthew, 5:3-12:

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 which do 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 the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall 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 persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

You'll find different versions of the Beatitudes in Matthew (5:3-10) and in Luke (6:22). Luke's version is shorter and more direct. Luke has more social justice parables, and more about the poor and about actual hunger. Matthew is more spiritual, so it makes sense that Luke would start simply, "Blessed are the poor," where Matthew's gospel reads "Blessed are the poor in spirit." For readers who can understand a little Hebrew, the very early versions of The Gospel of Matthew in that language read like Hebrew poetry and can be a beautiful way to grow closer to Jesus. The Beatitudes begin with a sense of blessedness, but some have translated them as splendid are, happy are, or even march on!1

Richard Rohr writes, "When you can identify with the little ones, when you can make peace, when you can be persecuted and still be joyful; then you're doing it right and are in heaven now! Jesus is saying 'This is what God looks like,' much more than, 'Do this and God will like you.' Can you feel the difference?" 4 Here's who Jesus calls blessed:

  • The Poor in Spirit2 ~ Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
    This isn't about self-abasement or desiring either poverty or riches. It's about a freedom from pride, and open availability to God's grace.
  • Those who Mourn ~ They shall be Comforted
    Is Jesus talking about our own suffering, which allows us to grow in compassion for others, or is Jesus talking about mourning the state of the world? Jesus knew and taught a lot about suffering and the way out of suffering, which is why those who follow his dharma teachings write about deep joy, while staring unflinchingly at the whole of the human condition, and even at what seem like the darkest or strangest times.
  • The Meek3 ~ They shall Inherit the Earth
    This isn't about being a pushover. Meekness means "strength under control." Blessed are those who've got their strength under control, and can be counted on. These are the people who should be in charge.
  • Those who Hunger or Thirst after Justice ~ They shall be Satisfied.
    What does this mean? Jesus knew the realities of his day were unjust. Could it be that Jesus is pointing to a deeper truth? Could Jesus be saying that, by continually hungering after justice, you will find a deep satisfaction in your life? Often people notice, after delving into Jesus' teachings, a growing discomfort with the status quo, a sense of being called to step in, in some way.
  • The Merciful ~ They shall Find Mercy
    Jesus often spoke of divine parallels. For example, in The Lord's Prayer, we can expect to be forgiven inasmuch as we ourselves forgive others. Here is another parallel: we are merciful, and we ourselves are shown mercy. Jesus doesn't say if this mercy will be experienced during our lifetime, or afterwards.
  • The Pure in Heart ~ They shall See God
    Seeing God! What a promise! Moses hadn't even seen God's face (just God's backside), and Job had only heard God's voice. To see God, be pure in heart. How to accomplish this? "Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart" (Proverbs 3:5). God purifies the heart through faith.
  • Peacemakers ~ They shall be Called Children of God
    Be mindful of your speech, your actions. Anyone who helps heal division, who helps enemies to be friends, who works towards a just peace, will be recognized as a child of God.
  • The Persecuted for Righteousness' Sake ~ Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
    Standing up for what you know to be right, knowing the consequences, is a splendid, honorable thing. We love to remember individuals who have changed the world by doing just that. It's not just the big names; it's everyone who joined them in the "good fight." When you do that, yours is the kingdom of heaven.

A Ninth Beatitude…

There's a ninth Beatitude, or 'happiness' that is similar to the eighth: "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." So, Jesus is saying that he realizes that being Jesus' follower means going against the ways of the world, and can get you into some hot water, too. In some parts of the world, following Jesus isn't seen as very hip. In others, it can be truly dangerous, even in the 21st century.

The Beatitudes may be so very familiar that the words have lost some of their impact, by now. But the first time the words were spoken, they must have electrified the crowds. Jesus calls the crowd to a life of non-violence, forgiveness, meekness, and more. What questions did that bring up, in the listeners' minds? Did they wonder what it might be like to act in participation with God to help bring about God's kingdom on earth? Did they ask themselves, "How can we take part in bringing about change, so there are more who hunger for peace and justice, and fewer who are hungry and starving?" or "What would it look like if we were to walk in peace, every day?" And aren't those questions still worth asking, today?

Be blessed, you poor in spirit, you who mourn, and you meek,
Be blessed, you who hunger and thirst for what's right.
Be blessed, you pure in heart, and you peacemakers.
Blessed even when persecuted…
Yours is the kingdom of heaven.
You will laugh, be comforted & satisfied.
You will inherit the earth, obtain mercy, even see God.
Yes, you'll even be called God's own children

Peace and blessings!

1'Splendid' was used by John Henson, in Good as New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures, p118. Fr. John Dear has used "march on."
2Aramaic 'ányâ (Hebrew 'anî), bent down, afflicted, miserable, poor
3Aramaic 'ánwan (Hebrew 'ánaw), bending oneself down, humble, meek, gentle
4Father Richard Rohr Daily email Meditations, Center for Action and Contemplation, cacradicalgrace.org, August 12, 2009. See also the related email from August 18th.

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