Blessed are the Merciful

Beatitudes, Justice, Kingdom of God, Spiritual Growth

As you look at the four portraits painted by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the mercy of Jesus is prominent. Jesus is merciful to sinners. He’s merciful to tax collectors. He’s merciful to prostitutes. The only people to whom Jesus was not merciful were those who were unmerciful.

In my last blog entry I broke down the 4th Beatitude.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [dikaiosuné], for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)

As I pointed out, “righteousness” might be better translated as either the word “justice” or “right-ness.” So the verse can be understood this way: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for things to be made right, for they shall be satisfied.

Now, let’s combine the 4th and 5th Beatitudes and look at them together.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for things to be made right, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

When you put these two Beatitudes together, you get a deliberate echo of Micah 6:8, which is the summary of the prophetic tradition:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

So they go together. And they have to go together. Because if you do not hold the 4th and 5th Beatitude together in tension, things go awry.

Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for [Righteousness]

Beatitudes, Justice, Kingdom of God, Suffering

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [dikaiosuné], for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)

Only one Greek word per blog post. That’s a strict law that cannot be violated. And the one Greek word for the day is dikaiosuné.

It is the word in the Greek language translated as both “righteousness” and “justice.” The English language is sort of an anomaly where we take “righteousness” and “justice” and we turn them into two different concepts. Two separate words. In most languages, they’re the same word.

Now, there is a problem with the word “righteousness.” It’s a great word. But the word “righteousness” can collapse into the world of personal, private spirituality. If you say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” here’s how we hear that: “Blessed are those who really, really want to be spiritual, …for they shall be really, really spiritual.”

That’s not at all what it’s saying. And the way we recover what is being said here is to use the word “justice” or, better yet, “right-ness.” “Justice” or “right-ness” sounds different in your ears than “righteousness.”

Blessed are the Meek

Beatitudes, Kingdom of God, Spiritual Growth

Jesus is preaching the “Sermon on the Mount” and a huge crowd is gathering. The crowd is comprised of a mixed multitude. A mishmash of all kinds of people. For example, from Jerusalem/Judea there are the very orthodox Jews with their intense interest in the Law and in the various dietary and ceremonial laws. They are strongly passionate about all things religious.

But there are also the Galileean Jews, for whom synagogue is an important part of their life, but they aren’t religiously compulsive about it. These folks are primarily fishermen, shepherds, and farmers. They have a whole lot of things to keep them busy. And so synagogue is a very formative part of their life, but they’re not obsessive about it.

Then there is the crowd who always seemed to be around Jesus. Sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes. People who had completely abandoned the religious life. They had just given up on religion. They wanted nothing more to do with it. It hadn’t worked out for them. It wasn’t cut out for them. And yet, somehow they’re attracted to Jesus too.

Interestingly, one of the places this crowd comes from (as we’re told in chapter 4) is the Decapolis. It’s an area of ten cities east of the Jordan. And it’s a Greek area settled by Alexander the Great many centuries earlier. And so the Greeks are there with their art and their philosophy and their learning. They’re in the crowd.

And then of course, there are the Roman soldiers who were ever-present as the dominating, occupying military force from the superpower of the age, the Roman Empire.

So you have the hyper-religious Jews, the moderately religious, the irreligious, the sophisticated Greeks, and the arrogant Romans with their military might. They’re all there. They represent the whole spectrum of humanity. Because the sermon that Jesus gives on the Mount is for the whole world. He is declaring the new way, the alternative way that leads to kingdom life.