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. (Matthew 5:1-12)
This passage is from Jesus's famous Sermon on the Mount, arguably the most important thing Jesus ever taught. So, why do so many "Christians" live the opposite of Jesus's teaching? And why aren't those of us who do live by his teachings yelling louder?
I think one of the most important things to remember is that Jesus was teaching us how to make the world a better place, not telling us how the world is. Now, over 2,000 years and billions of followers later, the world is suffering because enough of us still don't get it.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit" is probably the least understood of the beatitudes. I think what we have is partly a translation issue, partly a cultural thing. We hear everyday that you should be full of spirit! Whether holy spirit, team spirit, school spirit, isn't more good? Jesus was talking about recognizing your own shortcomings. He really meant don't be so proud of yourself that you can't recognize the ways in which you can improve. Try using the word humble to get closer to the original meaning. Blessed are the humble, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Practicing humility brings you closer to peace.
So, look at our leaders. We have a president who is an extreme narcissist. He claims to be the best at everything he attempts, even when it is abundantly clear that he is not. Everyone who looks, acts, or thinks differently than he does is classified as "other" and ridiculed. Yet he claims to be a Christian, and much of his base believes him. And because he is in a leadership position, people are emulating him, believing that cutthroat business practice, systemic racism and xenophobia, and the cruel treatment of anyone you perceive as lesser than, they believe that these things make them better people.
"Blessed are those who mourn." Cry for what you have lost. Empathize with your neighbors. Weep for the world's hurts. Despite what American culture says, feelings make us stronger. Crying stimulates the production of endorphins, leading to a reduction in stress. You feel better after you cry. You are more level-headed and productive after you have allowed yourself to get all the emotion out. So forget that "men don't cry", stop trying to appear tough, and ignore those who call you weak for feeling something. Let out a primal scream, spend an hour in the fetal position, write in a journal; do what you need to do to work through the pain and feel better.
"Blessed are the meek." According to the Cambridge Dictionary, Meek: quiet, gentle, and not willing to argue or express your opinions in a forceful way.
Well, here's how those following Jesus's teachings were drowned out by those who seem to have forgotten (or never really known) them. How many of us have had a conservative Christian tell us that we are wrong for believing what we do? I've lost count of my encounters. There's a great quote that has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary". Now, he didn't actually ever say this, but that's a discussion for another time. I think there is something powerful in the statement nonetheless. Instead of arguing and forcing others to believe as we do, live your life according to Jesus's teachings. Show kindness to EVERYONE you meet. Share what you have without judging whether or not they deserve it. Be patient. Listen to what others have to say. Reach out to those on the margins. Quietly be a peacemaker.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." We seem to have competing sets of morals in the United States today. Where I come down is the rule of love. For example, so many are opposed to same-sex marriage. Does it hurt anyone? No. Does it help anyone? Absolutely! Without marriage, couples pay higher taxes, aren't necessarily considered family for things like obtaining employer health insurance for their partner, adopting children, visiting their partner or child in the hospital, making decisions for an incapacitated partner, release of a body after death, automatically inheriting their own home or their partner's possessions... If you don't like it, don't do it. But it is not loving your neighbor to tell someone that they cannot marry whoever their heart draws them to. It is hateful to use your beliefs to rationalize denying something to someone else. We have even gone so far as to deny employment or housing to people in same-sex relationships, to refuse to treat trans-folk in hospitals, and the most petty, to refuse service at businesses to people because of who they love. This is not what Jesus would do. Reach out to the outcast. Call out injustices. Stand up for those who are weary from constant battle just trying to exist as they are. Work toward a just world for all.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." This doesn't mean that we should ignore crimes and move toward anarchy. But it does mean showing compassion for everyone, choose kindness, believe in people's ability to change and give second chances, FORGIVE. Show love to everyone, even if you think they don't deserve it. Others will show you kindness in return. If we all lived like this, the world would be a much more pleasant place.
"Blessed are the pure in heart." This doesn't mean that you have never done anything wrong. But, it does mean that you recognize your mistakes and want to do better. The desire to do good outweighs all else.
"Blessed are the peacemakers." If we follow the rule of love, this is easy. Do what you can to make the world a more peaceful place. Listen to one another. Forgive each other. Share. Offer help and support to each other. That's it.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted." Now, this one has caught my attention recently. Over the past few years, an increasing number of conservative christians in the US have claimed persecution because they can't legally discriminate against people anymore, or they can't force prayer in public school, or they can't have a religious statue in a public courthouse. That is not persecution. White christians have had a position of privilege in this country since its inception. We are finally leveling the field so that our society can more accurately reflect the freedom of religion to which our constitution entitles us. Separation of church and state allows us to each practice or not our own religion as we see fit. Persecution is oppression, abuse, tyranny, torture... there are places in the world where you can be beaten, jailed, and/or killed for being christian. That is persecution. Unfortunately, those who are losing their privilege are often actually attempting to persecute others! Many of them have a strong hatred for followers of Islam, calling for imprisonment, exile, loss of rights, deportation, even death to its followers. Jesus would never stand for this. He wouldn't accept the behavior of his "followers", he would be standing with the oppressed.
It doesn't matter what religion you are, stand up for what is right. The more of us standing with the oppressed, the less powerful the oppressors become. To do nothing only furthers their cause. Make bigotry unacceptable.
Shortly after delivering the beatitudes, Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). What is your treasure? What drives you? What goal do you need to achieve to feel like your live has been meaningful and successful? Not only does the answer show a lot about your character, but whether or not you have truly understood and ingested these teachings. Me? I want to make the world a more just, peaceful place. If I can help one person feel loved, valued, and safe, I will have done my job.