What are the Beatitudes?
The Ten Commandments came through the ancient Israelites and the cardinal virtues were first written down by the ancient Greeks. The emphasis on virtue throughout the centuries and throughout the world shows that a desire for it is part of what makes us human. These bedrock ideals of virtue were expanded in an entirely new light in the Beatitudes as articulated by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12). In the Beatitudes, Jesus presents us with a way of being rather than the “do and don’t” rules of the Commandments. They go further than the Greek ideal of being a strong person to being like God himself.
The Beatitudes reflect the progress that humanity had made in understanding the “heart” of God. They are more difficult to follow than rules because they require primarily a conversion of heart to love what God loves. They assume and promote an intimate relationship with God who, moment by moment, infuses individuals with the grace to share in His life.
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Being a know-it-all is the opposite of being poor in spirit. If we leave room for God to speak to us (even when He’s saying things we’d rather not hear), we’re open to spiritual growth.
2. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Our own imperfections and those of others can make us sad and angry. If we ask God to help us with bad habits, he’ll show us the way. The comfort and peace he gives is much deeper and more permanent than the sadness and frustration that come and go.
3. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
A meek person is not a grabby person. This beatitude reminds us that dependence on God can unite us closely with Him even in this world. If we “wait on the Lord,” rather than using people for our selfish desires, we will end up with something better than what we thought we wanted.
4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Jesus was definite when He said “will” – because He himself provides it if we ask Him.
5. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God’s greatest attribute is mercy. If we want to be like Him, we will be willing to respect the dignity of those who have offended us. Accepting God’s forgiveness for our having hurt others helps us develop a deeper understanding of mercy.
6. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Seeing things and people as God sees them, that is, unselfishly, requires practice, but the payoff is truth – the ability to see things as they are and not be thrown off balance when good or bad things happen. Purity also enables us to see the value of things and people without a selfish desire to control or possess them. This frees us to “possess” God alone. In possessing Him, we have everything else, too.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons and daughters of God.
Being a peacemaker means that I will not impose my will where it would unjustly cause discord. I will still work for what is right, but with love.
8. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
This reminds us that no matter what we suffer for the truth, Christ suffered it first and is with us as a “wounded healer” to guide and strengthen us – to actually live in us.