The Beatitudes & Social Unrest in America

Beatitudes, Cross, Justice, Kingdom of God, Racism, Social Commentary

For the last two years, much of my focus in prayer and thought has been soaked in the Beatitudes. Part of this is for a practical purpose. I am currently writing a book to be published in the Fall of 2021 by Fortress Press (working title: Jesus People: Communities Formed by the Beatitudes).

But more importantly, I have become convinced that the Beatitudes are, indeed, the lens through which we are called to live. They encapsulate Jesus’ entire life, ministry, teaching, death and resurrection. Each of us would do well to commit them to memory and prayerfully reflect upon them every day.

Because in the tumultuous storm that is currently raging throughout American society, the Beatitudes give us an anchor that enables us to offer a grounded, Christlike response.

Let’s take a brief moment to reflect on how each of them should inform us in light of the social unrest before us. And perhaps you might be open to listen and hear from God as you read and reflect.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The life of one who walks with an ongoing poverty of spirit is always characterized by an unassuming obedience to the will of God. It is only this kind of life that opens the door for God’s deep, transforming work, both personally and throughout any given society. Often it requires a willingness to cut against the grain of conventional thought and popular opinion.

In the midst of a culture of celebrity worship and social ladder-climbing, we must remember that the movement Jesus launched is tailor-made for people who are ignored and disregarded. Rather than capitulating to the interests of Herod, Pilate, and Caiaphas and the world they represented, Jesus chose to work on the fringes of society, placing a particular focus on the weak, the powerless, and the discarded.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

When people we know are expressing pain, followers of Jesus enter into their grief. This requires that we must be willing to slow down the pace of our lives in order to give real attention to one another. Rather than instinctively trying to “fix” people and problems from afar, we must incarnate God’s love to one another on a personal level. Paul instructs us to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” This image of weeping implies real presence. The kind of compassion that will actually cost us something. People need more than answers. We need one another. Ask, “Who in my immediate sphere of influence may be hurting or afraid right now?”

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Meekness is not weakness; it is strength brought under control. Within the context of his Sermon on the Mount Jesus is referring to the tamed strength of those who are capable of absorbing the blow of unjust oppression, without taking vengeance into their own hands. They understand that the earth belongs to God, and God’s agenda will ultimately prevail. Therefore, to be meek is not to be passively resigned to an inglorious fate. It is to have confident trust that God’s final word will ultimately satisfy those who live in fidelity to Christ.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

As apprentices of Jesus, may we refuse to shrug our shoulders in passive resignation at the presence of evil. May we allow ourselves to feel God’s pain over the world and begin to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And may that pain disrupt our selfish patterns of living and inspire us to work together for creative solutions. Yes, the entrenchment of evil in the world is widespread. And the problems that result can seem to be insurmountable. But those who are shaped by the fourth Beatitude refuse to bow in allegiance to the status quo. They dare to imagine and contend for a world of shalom under the reign of King Jesus. Because this world belongs to God. And God intends to redeem it from its bondage.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

We live in a contentious culture in which people tend to immediately demonize one another over varying opinions on virtually any conceivable issue. America truly is a mercy-starved society. And where else will she find mercy than from among those who have been thoroughly formed by the fifth Beatitude?

Being merciful doesn’t mean changing your perspective. Nor does it mean withholding your opinion. It simply involves seeking to understand first, and then giving the other person or group the space to be wrong without demonizing them. Just like everyone else, Christians have a political right to contend in the public marketplace for the ideas and values we believe contribute to a healthy society. But if in the midst of our efforts we neglect to walk in mercy, we have stumbled off the narrow path and have conformed to the hostilities of the status quo.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

When Paul gives a list of “the works of the flesh” in Gal. 5:20-21, he includes the following: hostilities, strife, jealousy, bursts of rage, selfish ambition, factiousness, divisions and envy. Paul also warns us that “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” I don’t think he’s talking about heaven in this passage. He’s listing the ways we stray from the narrow path, the way of Calvary that leads to God’s kingdom of peace and justice on earth as in heaven. Aggressively partisan and schismatic behavior blinds us from seeing our own faults and keeps us from identifying and participating in the actual work of God here on earth.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Scot McKnight: “Peacemaking is neither being ‘nice,’ nor is it ‘tolerance;’ rather, it is an active entrance into the middle of warring parties for the purpose of creating reconciliation and peace…The peacemaker, as the person whom Jesus blesses, seeks to reconcile–not by pretending there are no differences or by suppressing differences, but by creating love of the other that transcends differences or that permits the people to join hands in spite of differences.”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

To be a prophetic person is not about being a prognosticator of the future. To be a prophetic person is to have a prophetic perspective on the present, which always invites persecution. That’s the whole point. People don’t persecute people for predicting earthquakes. They persecute people for bringing a prophetic critique of the status quo. There is no way of actually following Jesus that will not awaken the hostilities of the world. The moment Jesus announced the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount and began to live by them in a public manner he was launched on a course that would lead him to Good Friday. And his invitation to each of us is to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him. In what specific, concrete way are you being invited to join him on this self-denying Calvary path right now?

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