When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. And after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
My wife cannot stand to go to the grocery store with me. You may have been expecting some deeper theological truth to begin this exploration of the beatitudes, but there it is. It’s not deep or theological, but it is true. Very early in our relationship, it became apparent to my wife that we were not compatible as grocery shoppers, so she officially uninvited me from her trips to the grocery store and encouraged me to make trips to the store by myself.
You see, I am a comparison grocery shopper, and my wife is not.
I can spend twenty minutes in the milk aisle, looking at labels while using the internet on my phone to determine which plant-based milk substitute is best. I want to compare the calories, the carbohydrates, and the cost. I want to know which nut, when milked, has the least environmental impact. While I might stand there working out these existential problems with my phone in one hand and a carton of macadamia nut milk in the other, my wife--God bless her--makes it through the entire store, gathering all the food that our family needs to survive another week. We just don’t grocery shop the same way. I want to compare grocery items—to see how they stack up against one another. My wife does not. She has decided that such comparison is a waste of time and energy. And before you waste any energy choosing sides and deciding which one of us right—which one of us is the better grocery shopper—let me save you the trouble. My wife is right. I know that because she told me. Now, even though my wife is right, we can probably all agree that much of our lives are governed by comparison. We may not all devote energy to comparing milk substitutes, but we all comparison shop every day. It’s one of the ways by which we divide and order our world. It’s how we make sense of things. Comparison is even one of the ways we engage and interpret the biblical texts. For example, when we hear or read the opening verses of the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we probably have plenty of ideas to compare. These verses are known as The Beatitudes, and they are, quite simply, some of the most famous words ever attributed to Jesus.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven… Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…”
We might not know them as “beatitudes”—we might not even know they are attributed to Jesus, but my guess is that most of us have been exposed to these words in some form or fashion. We’ve heard or read or sung these verses. These beatitudes are ubiquitous—they’re everywhere. Which, in and of itself, is kind of strange because the content of these verses is not normal. These beatitudes are full of things we don’t usually like to talk about. The word beatitude comes from the Latin word beatus, and it is defined as “supreme blessedness”—but the people in these beatitude verses do not appear to match that definition. the poor in spirit those who mourn the meek the persecuted those who hunger and thirst for righteousness This is a comparatively strange list. These are not the type of folks I think of when I think of “supreme blessedness.” Other biblical texts like Proverbs or the Psalms offer statements like, “Blessed is the one who is kind to the needy,” and “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord”—which is a far cry from “Blessed are the persecuted…” These beatitudes from Jesus seem to be swimming in comparatively deeper waters. They seem to be a collection of circumstances that are not normal, conditions that are not conventional, and realities that are beyond convention—or “post-conventional.” These are the spaces where our normal ways of being and coping no longer work. I can’t speak for you, but I can relate to that. I can absolutely identify with finding myself in spaces where conventional wisdom is of no use—in circumstances where my normal ways of being and coping are swallowed up. To be honest, I can relate to that right now. I could really use some post-conventional wisdom about how the horrible realities and strange circumstances I see in my life have anything to do with “supreme blessedness.” Perhaps that’s what these beatitudes offer. Maybe that’s just what this ubiquitous, post-conventional poem can provide...
If so, then our comparison shopping has already begun.
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