I have been meditating on the Beatitudes [the beautiful attitudes] and wonder if there is an order to Jesus’ enumerated blessings in Matthew 5:3-12. Although there are places in the Sacred text where the choice of words are less demanding, especially in ongoing narrative, here in the opening salvo of the Sermon on the Mount it is most likely that Jesus was careful to detail those characteristics that once developed, spiritually and emotionally, equip His followers to face the world they must minister in. The ultimate test of a disciple’s commitment and dedication to the Lord is their ability to represent the Good News—as only good news can be represented—with an undying hope, an enduring peace, an unconquerable love, an unquestioning faith, and an unquenchable joy. But reaching this level of commitment is a journey through stages of spiritual development beginning with the first beatitude. For the dedicated disciple of Christ who takes seriously a commitment to be used of God, he or she must begin at the beginning by:
- embracing poverty of spirit1 or learning to humbly depend on God, in a most absolute sense. Now we are prepared to embrace the heart of God in ceaseless prayer—a prayer life,
- finding a profound sense of fellowship with God in sharing His burden2 for souls. The evil around us does not go unnoticed; it is a painful reality that we are not of this world. We are here on a mission. We are
- discovering a growing and spontaneous passion within to follow Jesus3 unquestioning and without reason’s approval. We are
- Developing a hunger for righteousness, for representing Christ to our world, for a profound sense of commitment to living4 a faithful witness.
And these are the first four steps that precede “showing mercy” where we pause to consider how these four are requirements for the Lord to mold us and make us into effective and faithful ministers of His truth.
Johann Albrecht Bengel taught: grace removes guilt; mercy removes misery.5 The most basic expression of showing mercy would be giving to the poor, giving alms. Many are content to assign this meaning here to this beatitude but it more represents the spirit of giving behind the gift or a desire to lesson someone’s suffering simply because we can and God wants us to—without reward or recognition.
We have defined giving in terms of institutional support, percentages of income, with a sense of duty or even guilt driving our interest and commitment. But nothing here speaks to mercy. Mercy enters a world of hurt and misery and is driven by divine love to do something about it, to lessen that pain, if even in the most minuscule, cup of cold water, pillow fluffing, way. Mercy speaks to the heart of the giver, to a spontaneous outflow of caring love. Mercy sees all our resources as God’s, held in trust until God calls for them, until He chooses to use us to reveal Himself to another in their poverty, spiritual or natural.
We are saying that a spirit of caring and giving is less likely if we fail in the first four beatitudes. And we are saying that the ultimate ability to endure suffering with a song of hope in our hearts and praise on our lips, the last beatitude,6 depends on the condition of our hearts going in. It all depends on the condition of our relationship with the Lord: our dependence on Him, our passion to follow, our prayer life, a giving heart—the beatitudes that precede, if we are to stand strong when the winds of opposition blow hardest.
1 Mt 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2 Mt 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
3 Mt 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
4 Mt 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
6 Mt 5:11-12 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,