I had an interesting discussion a few weeks ago during a Sunday School class on the Sermon on the Mount. It was the ideal Sunday School class in that there was a great deal of participation and discussion, but it was relevant and respectful, in addition to being intellectually stimulating and spiritually nourishing.
Here’s the insight I found most intriguing. Often when we read The Sermon on the Mount, we tend to look at the Beatitudes as a sort of spiritual pay-scale for different Christian virtues—specific blessings promised to different kinds of people with different attributes and actions. At least, that’s how I have always heard it discussed.
But, there’s another way to look at the Beatitudes. One can see them instead as benchmarks in a journey, stages of a disciple’s progression as opposed to simply being a list of different virtues and blessings.
Consider first of all, the context of the sermon. It was given to new converts, people who had recently covenanted to follow Jesus—thus, they were new in their discipleship. It would make sense, then, that Jesus would explain to them the process that was ahead.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” One is poor specifically when one has a lack of something. I would interpret spiritual poverty as being in a state without spiritual strength or resources and being in a position of spiritual weakness. This could be either emptiness or sin.
When the disciple is poor in spirit he or she then mourns. The scriptures call this process godly sorrow—a sincere sorrow for one’s mistakes and weaknesses. Godly sorrow spurs the soul to repentance and those penitent prayers are answered by a merciful God—and thus, we are comforted.
When we have repented and been forgiven, that helps us be more tolerant and humble. The footnote to “meek” in the LDS KJV says that the Greek word translated a “meek” means, “gentle, forgiving, or benevolent.”
Thus, having been forgiven, the disciple is then inclined to be gentle, forgiving and benevolent with others.
Having started this process, and been forgiven of our own flaws and having become more forgiving of those we see in others, we then want to be better. While we are grateful for the gift of forgiveness, we want to improve and so we don’t need to seek forgiveness so often. In this phrase, we begin to want to be righteous—becoming so intently focused on this that our desire for righteousness is compared to hungering and thirsting.
Along the way, as we seek righteousness, we confront our weaknesses and realize just how deeply flawed we are. We had known this before, but realize that the extent of it is greater than we had known. This inclines us to be merciful with others. We realize how forebearant the Lord has been with us and we try to demonstrate the same with other people—which then leads the Lord to be merciful to us, and positive feedback loop is created.
As we repent of our sins and try to become better, the Lord’s grace and our efforts work together and we eventually become pure in heart.
At this point, we realize just how much God loves all His children. We are filled with love of, love from, and love like God and we have no desire to be in conflict with anyone. Instead of seeking conflict or advantage, we begin to desire and make peace.
The problem is that in a fallen world, many people will not want peace. Or, they may want it in abstract, but may not be willing to do the hard work that real peace will require. Peace, after all, requires humility, generosity, and other difficult virtues. Consequently, the peacemaker may be misunderstood and mocked, even persecuted, by those who don’t understand. But they realize that their reward is not here on Earth and that their success is not measured by how their efforts are received.
At this point, a disciple has truly become salt for the earth and a light to the world.
Someone may have come up with this idea before—or I may be completely wrong and way off-base. But I thought it was an interesting thought.
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