(This post contains some information from a post in October 2008)
For several years I have taught the Beatitudes as a process through which one goes from brokenness to healing, spiritually and emotionally. Since it is my practice to consider the spiritual aspect of a person first, this way of helping a person understand herself and how God is working in her life is the prelude to discussing other aspects of the individual’s life.
I first came to understand the Beatitudes this way as a result of a period of brokenness in my own life and through my study of the Beatitudes. Later, I read Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, and was surprised to discover how similar his view of the Beatitudes was to the way in which the Lord had instructed my heart. Dr. Harold Westing of Denver Seminary shared with me his diagram of them, developed from the Lloyd-Jones’ book. I have adapted it a bit, but it is very similar to Dr. Westing’s. (click on the diagram above for a larger, clearer view of it.)
This scripture, occurring in Matthew 5, and detailed by Matthew as the preface to the Sermon on the Mount provides, I believe, the pattern for living that enables us to live out the rest of the the Lord’s instruction. I have since found several writers who have observed a progressive process in the Beatitudes. In fact, I have an entire shelf devoted to books on the Beatitudes.
I have been asked on several occasions about the “discrepancies” between the Matthew 5:3-12 Beatitudes and Luke’s account in 6:20-26. As far as I can see, there is no discrepancy, simply two styles of delivery in two locations to two target audiences. In the Matthew account we have a spiritualized version written by a Hebrew for Hebrews. In it Christ assumes the rabbi’s posture for teaching, sitting, and it occurs on a mountain. This version emphasizes “The Way of Piety” that leads to transformation. In Luke, we get a Greek version for the socially conscious Greeks, delivered on a level plain and delivered in the prophet’s posture, standing. It emphasizes “The Cause of Mercy” that leads to social justice.
In Matthew, although the section immediately preceding the Beatitudes talks about crowds following Jesus and him healing many, when chapter 5 begins we are told that his disciples came to him and he “sat and taught”, in the rabbinic style. In Luke, we read that he is in the midst of diverse people, all of whom seem to be clamoring to have their respective needs met. In this one his tone and style is that of the prophet- blessings and woes. The constant between the two is Christ himself and his message. What we see in each depends on where we sit, or stand…..on the mountain or on the level plain and whether we are personally more inclined to the reflective inner life of pietistic pursuits or more inclined toward social activism and works of mercy. Each is simply a different facet of the same prism.
It seems to me that, in the last generation or two, within the church we have increasingly taken an either/or position between the two, polarizing them to such an extent that we have difficulty reconciling the two, just as some have difficulty reconciling the two versions of the Beatitude texts. Some have felt the need to stake a claim to one or the other position while diminishing the value of the other position because of personal preference or calling. I have, at different times of my life, been on both ends of the polar extremes with this and now am striving to embrace all of Christ, the Teacher and the Prophet, piety and mercy, holiness and justice, inner and outer focused. Both are necessary in the community of Christian faith.
In Acts 6:1-4, the Greek Christians complained that the Hebrew Christians were not treating the Greek widows fairly with regard to distribution of food. This happened as the number of new converts was growing. The apostles had the people seek out seven persons of good character, known to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and appoint them to the task of administering justice in the matter. They, the apostles, then could return their attention to the ministry of the word and prayer. Even here in the first generation of the church the battle lines were drawn….pietists (Hebrew Christians) versus the social activists (Greek Christians). And so we see the process begin. Christ anticipated it and prepared for it within the church. He gave us the Beatitudes and the Sermon, twice – an account from each perspective!
The implications for community life are significant. How we reconcile the two perspectives and live authentically with one another is reflected in the respect we show to one another and how we go about attending to the goals of each group. We cannot afford to have individuals staking claims on either extreme to the exclusion of the other, looking askance at one another and suspecting the authenticity of one another’s spirituality. Such maneuvers leave people turned off and wary of the institutional church. It also denies the fullness of Christ, his desire that both should be part and parcel of our carrying out his work in the world.