Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Beatitudes (the blessed ones), NOT "Be-attitudes"

The grammar of the beatitudes seems to be as such: Blessed is X because (Greek word: hoti) of this present (first/last beatitude) or future (the middle beatitudes) reality. Now with the grammar as such, it seems the blessedness is based not on the state mentioned first (X) but because (hoti) of the reality mentioned second. So as I read this, I am wondering if the initial qualities (poor in spirit/poor, hungering for righteousness/hungry, etc.) are less character qualities, but rather more like human conditions. Thus, no matter how miserable your human condition is, the kingdom of God and all it's present and future blessings are available to you (hence, you are blessed). As such, I am not to become poorer (financially) or more poor in spirit (more spiritually bankrupt) to be even more blessed, but rather I can find blessing even in those ugly situations. Similarly, people who are really really hungering for justice in the world are not necessarily more blessed than those in better circumstances. Rather, the blessing is in the satisfaction coming at the end to time (eshcaton).

Basically, I am having a tough time preaching that each Beatitude is something we are supposed to pursue to be more holy/blessed. Rather, they are norms of the type of people in the Kingdom, but not necessarily goals to pursue.  Otherwise, I should challenge my congregants to intentionally pursue persecution and becoming poor-er in the spirit. Or worse yet, some preaching might tell poor, marginalized people that they will lose out on blessing if they pursue just wages and economic improvement. In the end, Jesus is still authenticating His upside-down kingdom and showing that the lowly will be exalted. But it's not a character/virtue list; instead, it's a list of conditions that characterize the type of people who will respond to the King and His kingdom and receive its corresponding blessings.

It should be noted that this is not the majority view throughout church history. Recently, however, Donald Hagner in his Word Commentary on Matthew and Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy both take this approach. Both recognize that some of the beatitudes relate to Christian virtues (e.g. meekness, peace-making), but the relationship to Christian virtues in the beatitudes is secondary to the primary message of Jesus' upside-down kingdom.

1 comment:

Kyle said...

I just taught a youth lesson on this passage and I uncannily came to some similar conclusions, notably that the passage is not a call to believers to be more poor in spirit, or more meek, etc. I do think it promises blessings to people of the kingdom, and these people are marked by certain characteristics (X) (where I differed from you). People that do(X)are blessed in a similar way. The blessings are not because the person did (X), but similar in nature. I likened it to family Christmas gifts. I give one to my brother and get on from my parents. I don't get one from my parents because I gave one to my brother, but because I'm in the family. And because I'm in the family, I give one to my brother(X).

The latter section is not necessarily as important as understanding the format of promises from God, but I offer my two cents nonetheless...