The Beatitudes are not spiritual fast food. As with most of the Scripture, they are not well suited to our drive-through, microwave mentality of learning. Rather, they should be thought of as a holiday feast to be lingered over and luxuriated upon. And, as with holiday celebrations, they are something to be cherished, remembered, and returned to on a regular basis.
When we return to them, we find illumination. It is not the seven steps to this-or-that type of trendy, artificial glow that burns bright on the bestseller list for a week or two and then languishes in the dark rececesses of the discount table, but a genuine spiritual radiance that consistently quells the darkness in our lives. We need this light because the world most of us live in tends to be dominated by hazy attitudes and mistified thinking. In the Beatitudes, we’re called to be counter-culture. Each of the the Beatitudes is like a sunburst piercing through the cloud cover of our lives, calling us to something grander and nobler. They are not interested in why we are the way we are, their focus is to prod us to ask ourselves why we could not be something more than what we are.
The Beatitudes are about being. Jesus did not pronounce a blessing on those who do mercy, or do poor in spirit—heaven’s blessing is on those who are these things. Just as you can talk without doing, you can do without being. The Beatitudes are about being in the same way that marriage or parenting call us into being. When marriage or parenting are successful, it is because the people involved realized early on in the endeavor that their world had changed and they could no longer retain their old mindset and lifestyle if they wanted to make a successful transition. Consciously or unconsciously, they made the decision to embrace this and they became a husband, wife, father, or mother. At that point, it was no longer something they did, it became what they were.
The kingdom of God will be an impossibility for us as long as we insist on retaining our old mindset and lifestyle. We will be trying to put new wine in old wineskins. If faith is to be real, it must be more than something we do, it must be what we are.
The journey the Beatitudes call us to starts in the heart when we embrace the revolutionary truths of the kingdom of God. These truths are presented as paradoxes. This should not surprise us because living in the world as a citizen of heaven is itself a paradox. Consequently, the idea that mourning is blessed, the meek inherit, the poor are rich, are all perfectly at home in a kingdom founded upon the principle that death brings life, where we walk by faith in a sight-oriented world, and where we are not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good.
In his gospel, Matthew places Jesus’ teaching about His disciples being the salt of the earth and the light of the world immediately after the Beatitudes. This suggests that when we live out the Beatitudes, we become salt and light to the world around us. If we settle for something less as our standard of character and conduct, our witness will be equally diminished.
When Thoreau was jailed for refusing to pay a poll tax, Emerson, came to visit him. According to some accounts, Emerson asked Thoreau what he was doing in there. Thoreau’s response was to ask Emerson what he was doing out there. In the same way, it’s a real temptation for us to ask how the Beatitudes fit into our twenty-first century lives—how are they relevant to us? But that is to ask the wrong question. It is to miss the point. The real question we should ask is – how do our lives fit the Beatitudes?