When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I once had the privilege of reading the Beatitudes in the Church of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee. A picture of that place comes back to me every time I read this passage. In contrast another memory also reappears; a heated conversation about what on earth the first Beatitude means! Who are the poor in spirit? Cue looking at other translations. My favourite is, ‘Blessed are those who know their need of God. . .’ (NEB).
Most of my ministry has been in healthcare chaplaincy. What united the patients I met and worked with was that their lives were experiencing a spiritual wobble. Teaching spiritual care to staff, I would wave my arms around aimlessly, expressing how people were reaching out for something, something that would give them some stability, peace and hope. Time and again I saw people reach into the unknown and discover something helpful. To me they were expressing their need of God, though the word God often went unspoken.
However strong our own faith, it may still be the case that we know our need of God more powerfully in down times than in good ones. It’s human nature! Indeed, The Message has an even more graphic interpretation: ‘You’re blessed when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God . . .’
In the good times it is often easy to be complacent, think we know best, and get in the way of what God is trying to do or say. Maybe the first Beatitude is a reminder to put ego aside, to let go and let God. Then it’s easier for us to receive God’s gifts, and to be blessed with peace and joy and hope, the hallmarks of the Kingdom of Heaven.
God of all contexts, thank you for being there in good times and tough. May we never become complacent with the easy or the familiar. May we not wait until we are at the end of our tether, but always own our need of you, that we may be blessed by the life of your Kingdom. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
The Rev’d Daphne Preece, Retired Minister living in East Midlands Synod