Blessed are they
Our youth group studied and discussed the Beatitudes while camping in Indiana last week. The following is a post-camping reflection by one of the chaperones, Laura L. Brenneman. We hope you take a moment to join the youth in reflecting on and learning from this rich section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
Over a rainy weekend, twenty people pondered the significance of the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12), which was the theme of the New Covenant Fellowship Youth camping trip. In the cold and damp, it seemed apt to think about future blessings. However, as we talked, it became clear that we did not think of Jesus’ words as only about rewards down the road. The young people were able to identify how the Beatitudes are also about God’s care for people in the present.
While it can be difficult to understand how people who are “poor in spirit” (or “poor” in the parallel passage in Luke 6:20), who mourn, are meek, or persecuted for righteousness’ sake are, in fact, blessed—or “happy”—in the present, the NCF youth pointed out that Jesus calls them blessed because they show God’s character in the world. My tent group of sixth grade girls noticed that the first part of each Beatitude, that names who is blessed, is in the present tense; they are blessed now (see also Luke’s version of the Beatitudes [6.20-23]), even if most worldly standards do not say so.
Secondly, even though the promises of the second part of the verse are in the future tense, the inheritance and consolation of these people are near at hand. The Beatitudes, placed at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), are the first of Jesus’ great exhortations in the Gospel of Matthew. The beginning of Jesus’ ministry has been quickly explained in chapter 4. The good news that Jesus proclaims is succinctly named in 4:17: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Then he goes around Galilee and neighboring regions curing disease, demonstrating what the in-breaking kingdom of heaven looks like.
The kingdom coming in the here-and-now is a reign of God’s care for those who suffer. Jesus has invited people to turn and change (i.e., “repent”) to take on a new way of thinking, acting, and perceiving. The promises—of the kingdom of heaven, comfort, inheritance of the earth, satiation, mercy, seeing God, and being God’s children—are future, but also present. God will provide these rewards, but God also gives blessings now. The people who have turned and taken on a “God’s eye” lens, act as Jesus’ disciples now. This means showing special attention to those who are in pain now and, as a consequence, joining with them in suffering now.
Finally, the Beatitudes provide us, who want to be true disciples, an opportunity to reflect and turn to more faithful living. The fall season with changing leaves, shorter days, and, yes, even rain, prompt a more reflective feeling in me. The liturgical time of year can also provide opportunity for reflection. In the Christian calendar, we are in the time between Pentecost, when the disciples of Jesus received the Holy Spirit and became leaders of great power (see Acts 2), and Advent, the time of expectation and longing for the glory of God to be shown on earth.
It is a good time to take stock of what I do and to think about whether or not my actions align with the qualities of discipleship. Do I trust fully in God, rather than my own power (or “spirit”)? Do I see the many things in this world worth mourning about? Do I approach situations with humility or with arrogance? Do I long for God’s justice to be fulfilled? Do I extend mercy when I have been wronged? Do I act with pure motives, seeking God’s glory rather than mine? Do I show peace and seek to reconcile with enemies as God did? Do I devote myself to discipleship even when it is difficult? And do I complain about hardship or bear it, not to mention “rejoicing and being glad” about it?
The short answer is that I do none of these things well. It is pure grace that God chooses to work with sinners and truly amazing that I am blessed with a community that supports and challenges me to be a better disciple.
— Laura L. Brenneman