Bonhoeffer :: Chapter 6 The Beatitudes
1 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Have you ever thought about to whom the beatitudes were addressed? Bonhoeffer seems pretty certain that the beatitudes were pointed straight at the disciples. The account says that, seeing the multitudes, Jesus went up on a mountain. His disciples are gathered around him and the phrase “then he opened his mouth” indicates that there was a pause, some time passed.
Place yourself in that setting: The crowds were pressed around and Jesus has retreated a little. He’s found a place to sit and pulled all the disciples around him in a huddle. He looks at each one of you in turn. Silence. Something signifigant is about to happen.
These disciples have left everything to follow him. If you’ve been in one of the Sunday School classes studying Mark, you’ve seen that they just walked away from their businesses, walked away from their families, literally left everything to follow him. They have nothing now in the way of material possessions, but they have been witness to the beginning of Jesus Ministry. He has healed, he has cast out demons, he has started to preach. And now he is going to talk to them. Maybe he is going to explain what this has all been about. Maybe now he will take them into his confidence and tell them his plans…
This will be Jesus’ longest sermon. We have recorded in the Gospels a lot of his teaching, but this is one unbroken string of advice, and it is all to this group of disciples, sitting on a hill. And what exactly does Jesus tell them? Blessed! Blessed! The disciples no longer have a place to lay their head, like their master. They have no prestige, no job, they are opposed by the religious and civil leaders, yet they are blessed because they are disciples. They have heard the call, and they answered, even if they don’t yet understand what it all means.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Notice what Jesus says here. He doesn’t say “they will inherit the kingdom of heaven” or “they will get to the kingdom of heaven when they die”. He says they have it right now, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. These disciples are poor in spirit if anyone is: they depend now solely upon Jesus, they have given up all other means of security by which men count themselves rich. And the kingdom of heaven is present, if only a little seed, a germ of what will be.
“Blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted”. Mourn here has an active sense, Luther’s translation of the Bible rendered it “Blessed are they that bear sorrows”. As the disciples learn from the master, they will bear also the sorrow he feels as he looks at the lost sheep. They will bear sorrow as they look with pity upon the spiritual and physical sickness around them. Finally they will also bear sorrow as the world turns against them and persecutes them as it did their master.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Now we may not know much about how this world works, but we know very well that the meek rarely inherit anything. To get ahead in this life requires a little elbowing of others, an occasional discreet “look at me!” and a refusal to be put upon. You have to stand up for yourself. The disciples knew all this and showed it from time to time: John and James wanting to sit at the side of the master when he ruled, Peter brashly cutting off the servant’s ear. Yet they followed a master who lay down on a cross and cried “Father, forgive them” as they drove nails through his wrists.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
Not only do the followers of Jesus forsake their rights, they forsake any claim to their own righteousness as well. Their righteousness will come from God as they hunger for something better than the best man can do. Only Jesus redeeming act on the cross can make them righteous, only through Him can they be filled. The disciples must hunger for something, for they followed when he called. Jesus promises they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
One characteristic of Jesus ministry was the pity and mercy he felt for all he came into contact with. The disciples didn’t always understand, they had to learn to see the flock as their own. Jesus mercy on us extended to giving up his own life for us! Jesus calls us to purity of heart. The men of the time were content with a pure exterior, but Jesus calls us to a simple, child-like faith: simply follow him when he calls us. Purity of heart is to will one thing, to let our will be subsumed by his. If we do this we will be peacemakers, because we will have his peace.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Having his peace will only make the world see us as all the more alien, however, and Jesus says they will persecute, revile and slander true disciples. Imagine the disciples amazement: all that they have done and this is what they have to look forwards to!
Bonnhoeffer closes by noting that we often reject the sermon on the mount on practical grounds. To difficult we say. No one can do it, and if they could what would people think of them. As it so happens, one man could do it, and did. He ended up on a roman cross. Our fate, if we choose to be disciples, may be no better. But that is what Jesus calls us to. If any man would be my disciple, let him take up his cross, deny himself, and follow me.