Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

This excerpt comes from Matthew (BTCB) by Stanley Hauerwas, commenting on Matthew 5:1-12:

Given our everyday assumptions, we normally do not think that the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, those persecuted for righteousness sake, are “blessed.” Yet that Jesus declares such people “blessed” indicates that the transformed world has begun with the proclamation that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Each of the Beatitudes names a gift, but it is not presumed that everyone who is a follower of Jesus will possess each beatitude. Rather, the gifts named in the Beatitudes suggest that the diversity of these gifts will be present in the community of those who have heard Jesus’s call to discipleship. Indeed, to learn to be a disciple is to learn why we are dependent on those who mourn or who are meek, though we may not possess that gift ourselves.

It is tempting to speculate what kind of person is the exemplification of each of the Beatitudes. For example, it is often suggested that the “poor in spirit” exemplify the virtue of humility; or that “those who mourn” repent of their sins; or that “the meek” imitate the gentleness of the Lord and endure offense rather than retaliate; or that “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” desire nothing but God’s justice; or that “the merciful” exemplify compassion for the poor; or that “the pure in heart” have been cleansed of fleshly desires; or that “the peacemakers” preserve the unity of the church as well as seek the peace of the city; or that “those who are persecuted” endure hardship for the sake of the gospel. Each of these characterizations have merit and are useful for our edification.

But the source for any understanding of the Beatitudes must be Jesus. It is from Jesus that we learn what it means to be “poor in the spirit.” Thus Paul can commend the Philippians to have “the same mind . . . that was in Christ Jesus”:

Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5–8)


©2006 by Stanley Hauerwas. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.