The Beatitudes – Who is really well off?

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That’s the title that Dallas Willard gives in his book The Divine Conspiracy, which is pretty much the best book I ever read. It is particularly relevant to the text given in this week’s lectionary where Jesus gives us The Beatitudes.

In last week’s reading (Matthew 4:12-23) Jesus announced the kingdom was at hand, a statement that cannot be separated from this week’s text; hence the choice of graphic, which I created a little while ago. The Beatitudes are all about the breaking in of the rule of heaven on earth.

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The thing is that the Beatitudes are often misunderstood as some kind of list of values we have to live up to in order to be blessed. Willard gives a refreshingly different view that recovers the startling proclamation of the good news in these words.

“Blessed are the spiritual zeros – the spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of ‘religion’ – when the kingdom of the heavens comes upon them” – the paraphrase Willard gives to the first beatitude.

Willard provides a corrective to the way in which the beatitudes have often been interpreted as a list of states to which people must attain in order to be blessed. But… “Those poor in spirit are called ‘blessed’ by Jesus, not because they are in a meritorious condition, but because, precisely in spite of and in the midst of their ever so deplorable condition, the rule of the heavens has moved redemptively upon and through them by the grace of Christ”

Willard moves through each of the beatitudes in turn applying this corrective that recovers the beatitudes for what they were meant to be – an “ecstatic pronouncement of the gospel“.

The Beatitudes simply cannot be ‘good news’ if they are understood as a set of ‘how-tos’ for achieving blessedness. They would then only amount to a new legalism. They would not serve to throw open the kingdom – anything but… They serve to underline Jesus’ fundamental message – the free availability of God’s rule and righteousness to all of humanity through reliance upon Jesus himself, the person now loose in the world among us”

So looks like an opportunity to preach the real good news this week…

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6 thoughts on “The Beatitudes – Who is really well off?

  1. I must admit I haven’t read the book, but I like the point made that the Beatitudes are not a list of things to attain to. In one sense though I wonder if they are to be attained to – by those of us who find ourselves in such a privileged and honoured position in this world that we need to humble oursleves in order to be in a position to be raised up by God?

  2. Ah, this too Willard sees as a trap! “If all we need to be blessed in the kingdom of the heavens is to be humble-minded through recognizing our spiritual poverty, then let’s just do that and we’ve got bliss cornered”. He suggests that making such humbleness our goal, we “escape the embarrassment of receiving pure mercy”. To be honest my head begins to heart if I read to much Willard in one day, but it is life-changing stuff.

  3. I take it that the point that he is making is that the Kingdom of God is for everyone, ie. to be blessed doesn’t require that you have lead a good life, are particularly religious or that you are humble. It is a gift. Yet at the same time it begs the question as to those who do not fit into this category – Jesus parables and many of his encounters are challenging people to change direction, and I assume that the beatitudes also contain that inherent challenge? Or do they?
    I’m also intrigued that his paraphrase is ‘when the kingdom of heaven comes upon them’ speaking in the future tense, whereas other translations and the Greek (according to my interlinear) states that the Kingdom ‘is’ theirs, although the rest of the verses suggests that it in the future.

  4. I take it that the point that he is making is that the Kingdom of God is for everyone, ie. to be blessed doesn’t require that you have lead a good life, are particularly religious or that you are humble. It is a gift. Yet at the same time it begs the question as to those who do not fit into this category – Jesus parables and many of his encounters are challenging people to change direction, and I assume that the beatitudes also contain that inherent challenge? Or do they?
    I’m also intrigued that his paraphrase is ‘when the kingdom of heaven comes upon them’ speaking in the future tense, whereas other translations and the Greek (according to my interlinear) states that the Kingdom ‘is’ theirs, although the rest of the verses suggests that it in the future.

  5. You probably need to read the book, but I think the point is there are no categories for anybody to fall out of.

    The paraphrase has mislead – this book is very very much about kingdom now and the accessibility of kingdom life now even to the spiritual zeros..”When it comes upon them” is the expectation that that is very much in the present.

    I’m not sure they are a challenge, then they would become something to measure up to for someone. They are more an open invitation to the life the kingdom found as he puts it in the “transforming friendship of Jesus”.

  6. You probably need to read the book, but I think the point is there are no categories for anybody to fall out of.

    The paraphrase has mislead – this book is very very much about kingdom now and the accessibility of kingdom life now even to the spiritual zeros..”When it comes upon them” is the expectation that that is very much in the present.

    I’m not sure they are a challenge, then they would become something to measure up to for someone. They are more an open invitation to the life the kingdom found as he puts it in the “transforming friendship of Jesus”.