Jesus says “Blessed” nine times at the beginning of a lesson he starts teaching in Matthew five.
We look at this list, which is often called the Beatitudes (which means the blessings), and we try to figure out what Jesus meant.
Actually, I think, we are trying to figure out how we can be part of the list. And we are afraid that we can’t.
For example, Jesus says that the poor in spirit will be blessed, that they will have the kingdom of heaven. So, because we want to have the kingdom of heaven, OR because we’re afraid we’ll lose out, we want to know what poor in spirit means.
Does it relate to bank accounts, in which case it turns our usual expectations upside down? Only poor people are going to heaven (“don’t have money in the bank? You have heaven!”). Does it mean spiritually needy, in which case it applies to everyone. Does it mean those who simply recognize our spiritual inadequacy? In that case, we should work hard to show that we are humble.
Once we know the rules, once we get the equation figured out, then we can get what is in the formula.
I think the kingdom of heaven doesn’t work that way.
I think that Jesus is being descriptive, rather than prescriptive. He’s describing how God sees us. For example, people who are poor in spirit are blessed, because they will not be spiritually poor. He’s not prescribing what we have to do, which would be If you want to get the kingdom of heaven, then make yourself poor in spirit. Be poorer than others.
Here’s what I think was happening on that hillside.
Jesus sat down up on a hill. His closest friends came and sat down with him. He looked around at their faces. He looked around at their hearts. And he knew what was in each.
And he started to talk.
An earlier version of this post is included in Learning A New Routine: Reading the Sermon on the Mount a Little at a Time