Thoughts on Matthew 5:3-6
This is the first of two posts that will dig into the Beatitudes. Jesus opens the Sermon on the Mount with this snapshot of what a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven will look like. As we will see, they are “if this, then that” statements. We will also see here and in the rest of the sermon that there’s a prior and even more important “if this” that must take place in order for anyone to be able to live this way and enter the Kingdom of Heaven – namely, salvation through faith in Jesus the Messiah and His atoning work on the cross.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” These are challenging words spoken to a people who were very proud of their heritage and religion, and, by our reading them, also to a people full of pride in themselves. The Jews, of all people, were particularly proud people who looked at Gentiles as inferior. After all, the Jews were God’s chosen people. We see this attitude on display in John when the Jews state, “we have Abraham as our father” in the midst of a debate with Jesus. Jesus basically says here in Matthew 5 that humility and understanding one’s spiritual poverty are requisite to entering the Kingdom of Heaven. We are reminded many times in the OT God will not turn away from those broken and contrite in heart. The next verse is linked to this one and also helps shed light on this first beatitude.
“Blessed are those who mourn.” This is not talking about people who are sad over worldly things. This is talking about people who are sorrowful over their sin, and maybe also the sin of others. People who mourn over their sin are likewise poor in spirit because they recognize their great need. These are the ones who will be comforted and see the Kingdom of Heaven.
“Blessed are the meek.” A quick search of the definition of this word reveals dozens of options, so which one is correct? Is it “enduring injury with patience and without resentment,” or “gentle, quiet, unaggressive; benevolent, kind; courteous, humble, unassuming,” or “not willing to argue or express opinions in a forceful way”? Was Jesus intentionally using a word with multiple meanings, or do we simply have a poor grasp on what that word once meant and what the original audience understood it to mean? It appears that, based on the use of the word in other texts, the Greek word πραΰς (praÿs. pronounced prah-ooce’) can also be translated as “humble” or “gentle.” My guess is that this is simply a case where our language does not have a single word deep enough to convey the full meaning of πραΰς, which is why we have to resort to either multiple single-word definitions or phrases. Regardless, the idea is that the person who embodies πραΰς is the kind of person willing to be pushed around or derided. Why would someone willingly have these kinds of things done to them? The context supports the idea that it’s because of belief in Jesus as the Messiah. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” “That’s ok” will be reply from the meek because they know that though they may endure losses of various sorts now, Jesus promises that they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Just as with the first two Beatitudes, this one reveals a needy heart condition. There’s no place for the self-sufficient or self-righteous in the Kingdom of Heaven. As we will see throughout this sermon, Jesus is driving toward one thing – to prove in every way that the standard for being admitted to the Kingdom is perfection, and that we are wholly incapable of achieving it on our own. Jesus’ sermon leaves the hearer who understands their depravity in utter dependence on the grace of God to receive anything but condemnation. It’s those who recognize their true need, feeling acutely a thirst and hunger for Jesus’ righteousness that is their only hope, who will be filled. Those who, like the Scribes and Pharisees, trust in their own “righteousness” will die hungry and thirsty, falling short of entering the Kingdom.