The Beatitudes: Pathways of Living in True Joy and Peace

By Virginia Schurman

Reflections and Queries for Sharing

The teachings of Jesus called the Beatitudes, recorded in the gospels of Matthew (5:1-10) and Luke (6:20-23), are an invitation to a way of living that brings true happiness and both inward and outward peace. The beatitudes call us to a radically new way of being when we center our lives on God, and we become transformed. The beatitudes call us to true happiness and the deepest of joy as we find our true identity in our relationship with God and true peace both inwardly and outwardly.

Beatitude” is Latin for “an abundant happiness”. In his lesson on the Beatitudes, Jesus calls us to an abundant happiness that makes us complete and whole, in which we find our true selves, the person that God intends us to be. God leads us to a transformation of ourselves, gives us the ability to see what needs to be transformed and to find God’s help in that transformation. They lead us to a peace and joy to be experienced here and now: in knowing Christ’s Living Presence. Just as He did over 2000 years ago in Galilee, the Living Christ brings joy as He seeks us through and accompanies us in our pain. He brings a joy which sorrow and loss and pain and grief are powerless to touch, a happiness that shines through our tears. This is a joy that nothing in life or death can take away, because nothing in life or death can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38-39). As Jesus said, “no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).

Each Beatitude begins with the word “blessed.” The Greek word translated as “blessed” means “extremely fortunate, well off, and truly happy” because one is favored by God. To live the Beatitudes is to be centered on God and God’s desires for our life. They invite us to live in a true inward peace that leads to a desire to be outward peacemakers, to bring reconciliation, to seek out opportunities for mercy and compassion, to pursue justice and righteousness as a hunger and thirst. We live the Beatitudes where we are right now, one day at a time, one leading at a time, and one action at a time. We live them realizing that we are imperfect, that we make mistakes, and need forgiveness. We live them with confidence in Jesus’ promise of a joy and peace that only God can give.

The eight Beatitudes in Matthew can be arranged into two categories. The first reflect a longing for a deeper relationship with God (blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn). The second group reveal the transformation of our lives as fruits of that relationship (blessed are the pure of heart, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted). The first group brings us into closer relationship with God which results in the transformation of our lives described in the second group.

The beatitudes leading to longing for a deeper relationship with God

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6)

In the days in which Jesus lived and taught, it was common for people to be literally dying of hunger and thirst. They lived where both food and water were scare. Jesus asks in this Beatitude whether we want a deeper relationship with God as much as a starving person wants food, or as much as one dying of thirst wants water. Jesus’ message echoes the experiences of the Psalmist: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1). The soul longs for spiritual food and finds it in Christ’s presence.

When Jesus uses the word “righteousness,” He refers to living in accordance with God’s desires for us, in right relationship with God and with others. How much do we hunger and thirst to initiate and sustain righteous relationships in all aspects of our daily lives?

Queries for reflection and sharing on this Beatitude:

1. For what do I most hunger and thirst? How much do I long for a closer relationship with God?

2. What draws me closer to God? Away from God?

3. How does the Holy Spirit call me to become more centered and in right relationship with God and with others?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1)

This beatitude can be paraphrased as “I need help, I can’t do it alone.” Jesus calls us to realize our own spiritual helplessness and to put our whole trust in God.” Being poor in spirit leads us to humbleness before God.

We become poor in spirit when everything we rely on falls apart. For some, it is losing loved ones, for others, failure of a cherished dream or ambition, loss of a job, loss of faith in others or ourselves, prolonged periods of dryness in our spiritual life, illness, or other experiences.

In these painful times, in this poverty of spirit, we learn to redefine our attachments. We learn not to rely on the usual things that our culture relies on to define one’s identity: wealth, status, possessions, and even other people. All of these can be taken from us, and we learn that God alone is the only enduring one. We find our true self in our relationship with God.

Jesus says that the poor in spirit are received into the kingdom (or rule or reign) of heaven, where all of creation is once again in right relationship with God and with each other. Jesus teaches that the kingdom of heaven is within (Luke 17:21), as we grow in relationship to the Inward Christ. We learn that our needs and concerns are important, but so are the needs and concerns of others. We learn how to love others with a true compassion. We are more open to seeing God at work in the creation and in others. We learn how to live in ways that our life becomes more unified. We learn that the only real peace comes from our relationship with God and in living in God’s realm.

In this beatitude, Jesus echoes the promises of the Psalms: “I sought the Lord and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Look to Him and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble” (Psalm 34:4-6).

Queries for reflection and sharing:

1. What has been my experience of becoming poor in spirit? How has that helped or hindered me in my relationship with God?

2. What helps me to rely more and more on the Holy Spirit and to center my life on God?

3. What helps me to become more a part of God’s realm (God’s way of being and doing) in my daily life? in my home life? at work?, in my community?, in the Meeting?, in the wider world?

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)

There is an Arab proverb paraphrased as “All sunshine makes a desert.” A desert is a place where no fruit can grow. There are many things that sorrow can do. It can bring us to a total reliance on God that would not have been possible in the “good” times. Sorrow can make us more compassionate toward others, since we have walked in their shoes and know their pain and sorrow first hand. Sorrow can show us the essential kindness of others who reach out to us in our need. Sorrow can show us the comfort and compassion of Christ, who walks with us in our sorrow and is a compassionate and understanding companion because He has experienced deep sorrow Himself in his earthly life. In sorrow, we are driven to the deep places of life and a new strength and beauty can enter our soul.

Those who sorrow and mourn include those grieving over the death of a loved one, those who are in physical pain, and those who have a disabling condition such as a chronic disease. Those who mourn include the hungry, the homeless, the persecuted, those without hope, and those suffering from depression or mental illness. It includes those who feel their own shortcomings and their lack of love for God and for others.

Jesus promises that each of us will be comforted by the presence of the Living Christ, who walks with us in our pain. We are also led through our experiences of pain to become comforters to others. The word that Jesus uses for “comfort” also means, “to encourage, to excite, to urge.” We become truly compassionate through our experiences of pain. We are enabled to be God’s helpers and to reach out in love to others because we know their pain first hand. Comfort is promised by the Psalmist “My soul languishes for your salvation; I hope in your word.” (Psalm 119:82)

Queries for reflection and sharing:

1. How has mourning in all its manifestations brought me closer to God and others?

2. In what ways have suffering and difficulties brought new openings in my spiritual life?

The Beatitudes showing us the ways in which our relationship with God transforms us and our lives

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

Jesus used the word “heart” as we would “mind” or “will.” In the days of Jesus’ earthly life, the heart was considered the source of an individual’s thoughts, desires, and actions. The person was whatever his or her heart was. In the Hebrew Bible, only Yahweh could truly know one’s heart. The Psalmist wrote, “Those with clean hands and a pure heart will ascend the hill of the Lord.” (Psalm 24:3-5) and “Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure of heart” (Psalm 73:1)

In Jesus, we see what it is like to be pure in heart. He took on human nature and modeled a life centered on God. He was constantly in touch with God and did God’s will in all things. He accepted lowliness and poverty. He had a particular regard for those rejected by others; the ones that others rejected and did not love – the poor, the prisoners, the sick, and the women and children. To become pure of heart is to have all aspects of our lives centered on God, our thoughts, desires, and actions. To become pure of heart means that all aspects of our life radiate from our experiences of God’s love.

Queries for reflection and sharing:

1. What encourages me to place God more and more at the center of my life, so that my thoughts, desires, and actions flow from that Center?

2. What helps me to seek and be content with God’s will in all things?

3. Are there impediments in my spiritual life, which are hindering my growth?

“Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5)

This beatitude echoes Psalm 37:11: “the meek shall inherit the land and delight in abundant prosperity.” The meaning of meekness is very complex. The Greek word “meek” can also be translated as “humble” or “powerless”. It is not being a doormat. Meekness arises from being centered on God. It is a fruit of being pure in heart, of living out God’s will in all aspects of our daily life. The apostle Paul says that the meek exercise self control in all things. For example, meekness is knowing, with God’s guidance when to get angry and how to get angry. Jesus, as the example of meekness in all things, called the self-righteous “hypocrites and whitewashed tombs,” and drove the moneychangers from the temple but did not resist His persecutors when He was arrested and tried. The meek Jesus lived His life in balance and never in the extremes of destructive rage on one hand or cowardice on the other. Meekness makes us self-possessed and lets us see the truth about ourselves and others that we can miss when we’re overwhelmed by emotion.

Meekness toward others implies loving-kindness and gentleness of spirit, and a freedom from malice and a vengeful spirit. Meekness is also how we respond to others in the face of insult and suffering. The meek do not resist evil, but overcome evil with good (Matthew 5:39).

There is also meekness toward God, when we are so open to God’s guidance that we do not reject it even when it challenges us to change or to do something that we personally dislike. Meekness involves resignation, a calm acquiescence to God’s will for us. Meekness is one of God’s gifts to us, one of the fruits of the Spirit described by Paul in Galatians (5:22-23).

Meekness helps us live a true humility and makes us “teachable,” because the more we grow spiritually, the more we realize how little we do know, and that in our spiritual life it is not possible or important to know everything. In meekness, we come to trust in God, that what we do need to know will be revealed to us, as we need it, and that walking with God is taking only one step at a time in faith.

Queries for reflection and sharing:

1. What are my experiences of being meek with others and with God? of being resigned to God’s will?

2. What helps me to live in balance and not in destructive rage or wimpiness?

3. How does the Spirit help me to develop kindness, gentleness, self-control, patience, and humbleness? to temper my anger? to love all people, even those who irritate me?

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7)

The word “mercy” is used in the Bible to refer to God’s actions. In being merciful, we are reflections of God’s Love. Mother Theresa of Calcutta devoted her life to help the dying, who were outcasts and rejected by everyone else. She wrote that she was led to do this to share the great love that God had given her and because she saw Christ coming to her in these outcasts to be loved and to be served.

The Aramaic word that Jesus used for “mercy” implies that we identify with others: we see things as others see them, we feel as others feel, we are going through what the other person is going through because we have experienced the same things ourselves. Our experiences allow us to know what that person needs and to respond in a way that is right for them. They also make forgiveness easier because we understand a person’s reasons for thinking and acting in a certain way. This is what God did for us by becoming human in Jesus, who learned by experience to see with a person’s eyes, to experience with a person’s feelings, to think with a person’s thoughts. He came to know all the joys and sorrows of being human first hand.

Queries for reflection and sharing:

1. How have my experiences helped me to be more loving to others? To identify with them, help them, and to forgive them?

2. How does the Holy Spirit help me to be merciful? What have been my struggles in being merciful and forgiving?

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”(Matthew 5:9)

The word “peace” is used in the Bible over 400 times. The Hebrew word “shalom,” which we translate into English as “peace,” has many meanings. It means more than the absence of war or conflict. It means a condition of completeness, in which nothing is lacking. It means perfection, in which everything which makes for a person’ highest good is present. In the Hebrew Bible, Yahweh is peace. In the Christian Bible, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Jesus, in His final talk with His disciples before His death, said “Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). When one is at peace, one is in a perfect state of well being within one’s self and with others and is in perfect synchrony with God.

What does it mean to be a peacemaker? First, we accept God’s gift of peace ourselves, the inward peace that we know when we live our lives in Christ’s Living presence and according to God’s guidance. We have peace within ourselves and are given purity of heart when our whole heart and life is given over to God. From this overwhelming experience of the abundance of God’s love, we are led to be loving to others. We know that this loving may be very costly to us. On one hand, it may be well received and returned or we may be rejected or persecuted for it. Jesus understands this all too well. It is one of the mysteries of the Cross. Jesus also understands that it was only this radical love, which dared to love while expecting no love in return, that can cut across and end the mounting barriers of increasing revenge and hatred, which dominate our world.

Queries for reflection and sharing:

1. Have there been times in my life in which God’s love has brought me to a place of internal peace?

2. In what ways am I led to be a peacemaker in my home life? at work? in my community?, in the Meeting?, in the wider world?

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:10)

Those who have devoted their life to God and living by God’s values and are being led in all things by God, are inevitably going to challenge systems based on other values. God’s realm of love, righteousness, truth and justice challenges systems built on the opposite values of power, greed, oppression, falsehood, and the exploitation of others and the creation.

Jesus Himself knew persecution, as did the Early Christians and the Early Friends. Persecution can take many forms – death, imprisonment, shunning, verbal expressions, etc. We are called to be meek and respond to persecution with loving-kindness.

Queries for reflection and sharing:

1. In what ways am I called to challenge systems built on power, greed, oppression, falsehood, and exploitation of others and of the creation?

2. Is my witness strong enough -am I doing anything worthy of being persecuted?

3. Do I love and pray for those who persecute me?

The beatitudes call us to a new way of being and doing that can radically transform our lives and the lives of all we touch. They bring true happiness and the deepest of joy as we find our true identity in our relationship with God and true peace both inwardly and outwardly.