Blessed: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
If I were to honestly consider what it means to be a Christian, I would have to turn to the Beatitudes. They almost provide a portrait, one that has resonated down through the centuries. I think that too often we see the Beatitudes only as part of the Sermon on the Mount, spoken to a crowd. We seldom see it in terms of a solitary disciple. When we make that move from the multitude to the individual, however, I think the Beatitudes move from being merely inspirational to being instructive.
We may picture a person on their knees in prayer, acknowledging their spiritual poverty before God and mourning over it. This confession of spiritual poverty tends to make this person meek or gentle in their relationships with others, as honesty compels them to allow others to think of them what before God they confess themselves to be. Yet, far from acquiescing to this spiritual poverty, this individual hungers and thirsts after righteousness, longing to grow in grace.
We next see this person with others, out and active in the human community. Yet, their relationship with God does not cause them to withdraw from society, nor insulate themselves from the world’s pain. On the contrary, they are in the thick of it, showing mercy to those battered by adversity. They are transparently sincere and, therefore, seek to play a constructive role as a peacemaker. They, however, are not thanked for their effort but, rather, opposed, slandered, insulted and persecuted on account of their self-sacrificial love and the Christ with whom they are identified.
Such is the man or woman who is “blessed”. That is, one who has the approval of God and who finds self-fulfillment in following the teachings of Christ and making them their own.
In all of this, the Beatitudes stand in stark contradiction to the values of secular society and especially to the “power philosophy” that has become so prevalent among so many, including some within the Christian community. These judge the rich to be blessed, not the poor, whether in the material or spiritual sphere. Blessed are those who are carefree, not those who take evil and injustice so seriously that they mourn over it. Blessed are the strong and the brash, not the meek and gentle. Blessed are the full, not the hungry. Blessed are those who win at any cost, not those who show mercy or risk themselves in making peace. Blessed are those who can tell lies (and get away with it) not the pure in heart who refuse to compromise their integrity. Blessed are those who are secure and popular, not those who have to suffer persecution.
Christ’s teaching in the Beatitudes is perhaps the single greatest challenge to the world as we know it. It may also be the single greatest challenge to those of us who are believers for it requires us to adopt an altogether different set of values and make them our own. The Beatitudes call us to what Bonhoeffer called the “extraordinariness” of the Christian life. “With every Beatitude, the gulf is widened between the disciples and the people, and their call to come forth from the people becomes increasingly manifest.” Or, perhaps better and more succinct, is the comment of Helmut Thielicke that, “Anybody who enters into fellowship with Jesus must undergo a transvaluation of values”.
In my opinion, such a reversal of values is basic when we consider what it means to be a Christian. Moreover, if we read the Gospels, we should not be surprised at such a reversal. In the world of the Gospels, the humble are exalted and the proud are abased; the first are last and the last are first; the greatest must be the servant of all; the rich are sent away empty handed while the meek and the poor are made heirs of the kingdom. A reversal of values indeed…
Strangely enough, in the early centuries of the Church, this reversal of values was never questioned. Instead, it was taught, written about and, more importantly, it was lived. For them, it was not only the forecast of a kingdom to come, it was a daily reality.