Let’s continue with our series on the Beatitudes.
Remember a couple of key points: First, we’re seeing characteristics of citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Second, these aren’t really characteristics we can strive for; instead, we simply open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s work, what Methodists call his “sanctifying grace,” and we find ourselves more like those whom Jesus calls blessed.
The verses we’ll look at today have a lot to do with holy desires. What do citizens of the kingdom truly want?
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Righteousness” isn’t too hard to understand. If something is righteous, it is aligned with God, approved by God. In understanding this verse, what the modern world has is a problem of context.
Jesus is describing a kind of hunger and thirst we seldom experience in developed nations. In his day, the typical worker was seldom getting enough calories. Clean water was scarce, too, and it was easy to end up in a situation where you could be without one or both for days.
He’s talking about desiring righteousness the way a dying man might want food or water. Nothing else takes precedence.
This understanding helps us grasp another difficult teaching, the “camel through the eye of a needle” story found in Matthew 19:23-26. It’s likely the rich young man’s possessions, which sheltered him from the typical experience of others, kept him from feeling the desire he really needed to feel to be a disciple of Jesus.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
To understand the concept of mercy, you also have to understand the underlying concepts for the Greek and associated Hebrew words. To show mercy, a person had to also have a deep sympathy for the motivations and situation of the person receiving mercy.
A science fiction example would be Counselor Troi on Star Trek, whose telepathic abilities let her actually feel another person’s emotions and motivations. The Bible isn’t science fiction, however. We don’t have telepathy, but we do have the Holy Spirit binding us together and enhancing our compassion for one another.
Again, we have to let the Holy Spirit work. We have to be patient; we have to listen, even when we’re really angry with someone. Showing mercy takes time.
And of course, we need to remember we are all recipients of mercy. Because God took on flesh and dwelled among us, even suffering like us, we are forgiven the sins that should result in eternal separation from God. We’re given eternity and asked to show a little temporal mercy to others in return.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
The idea of purity here is rooted in the concept of something unmixed: William Barclay uses examples of grain sifted of all its chaff, an army purged of the discontented and the cowardly, milk or wine unmixed with water, or a metal like gold with no “tinge of alloy.”
We of course are being called to be fully holy, our sin refined out of us. And of course, we cannot do it ourselves. Self-examination through prayer, study, worship and participation in the sacraments opens new aspects of our being to God.
Again, we’re talking about sanctification, God’s continuing work after we are saved, a concept Methodists love to emphasize.
The reward is particularly enticing. We see God now. We’re reminded again the kingdom is present now, that we live in eternity now, its joy available to us in this life.