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.”
We have already established that these beatitudes are different because they talk about the stuff we don’t usually like to talk about. They appear to “name the thing.” These verses are different because they bring to the surface the kinds of things I would prefer to pretend don’t exist. This is not a list of who’s who; this is a list of who’s not.
the poor in spirit those dedicated to pursuing love no matter the cost those who mourn the meek, the persecuted, the reviled those who absorb violence and offense while remaining committed to mercy and peace those longing for righteousness and justice
These beatitudes are unrelenting. Every verse names the pain. Maybe that’s where post-conventional wisdom begins—in naming it. Maybe there’s something to naming the thing—to seeing it, facing it, validating it. Clearly, these beatitudes are not afraid to talk about it—no matter what it is. These verses make no effort to deny anything. They name the pain. They acknowledge the discomfort. They validate the suffering. I’m not sure I always do that. Compared to these beatitudes, I’m much better at things like denying and disassociating than I am at acknowledging and validating. I would usually rather devote my time and energy to side-stepping or avoiding or numbing the post-conventional realities within and around me. I’d rather spin it than name it. I’d rather throw a lot of words at it in order to soften it—to make it seem better than it is. But these beatitudes don’t do that either. In fact, these verses don’t throw a lot of words at anything. This post-conventional poem is comparatively brief. In the ten verses known as The Beatitudes, there are at least ten undesirable conditions and circumstances named. Do you know what those ten groups of burdened folks get for their troubles?
141 words in the NIV English translation.
Divide those ten groups of people into the 141 words—and they each receive an average fourteen words. Thirteen words for the poor in spirit. Ten words for those who mourn. Sixteen words for the persecuted. There just aren’t a lot of words here—which seems strange given the weight of the subject matter. Or maybe that’s not so strange. Maybe that’s a clue. I mean, when you’ve been in a circumstance or condition like the ones named in the beatitudes, did you find yourself longing for words? Were more words what you needed? Think of the last time you felt poor in spirit or depressed. You may be there right now. Imagine trying to convey all that’s going on inside. How would you honor the uncertainty and apathy and lifelessness and exhaustion? Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,”—thirteen words in this English translation. Or how about the last time you felt persecuted, reviled, or falsely accused? If I asked you, would you be able to convey all that you experienced in two sentences? Because that’s what Jesus uses. Maybe the truth is that sometimes, we find ourselves in spaces that are beyond words. Maybe when our lives move beyond convention, more words don’t necessarily help. Maybe I don’t always need to fill up the space with words in an effort to diminish the discomfort or explain it away.
Thirteen words for the poor in spirit. Two short sentences for those under attack, persecution, and false accusations.
The brevity of these beatitudes seems to indicate that after I name the pain, I need to honor it. I need to give the longing, the heartbreak, and the exhaustion the space it deserves. That’s what these beatitudes do. These verses name the thing—and then they honor it by giving it space—by recognizing language has limitations. More words aren’t always what is needed. Sometimes, we dwell in post-conventional spaces that are beyond words. Name it and be still.
Be quiet. Be present. Honor it.
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