Blessed Are You: Understanding and Teaching the Beatitudes

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One of my favorite Gospel stories is the account of Jesus cleansing the temple. When he turned over the moneychangers’ tables, he was not just saying, “You shouldn’t sell stuff in church!” By taking this radical action in the place most sacred to the Jews, he was symbolically turning over everything they held sacred.

This helps us understand the Beatitudes (see below). The Jews regarded wealth, power, and prestige as signs of God’s blessing. On the other hand, if someone was poor, downtrodden, sick, grieving, meek, and lowly, it was thought to be a sign of God’s displeasure. If a person was one of the lowly, the Jews imagined God must be punishing that individual.

This might seem logical, but Jesus turns this worldly way of thinking upside down.

Instead, he says the poor will receive the kingdom.

The meek will inherit the earth; those who hunger and thirst for all that is beautiful, good, and true will be filled.

The pure in heart will see God, and those who are persecuted will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus insists that it is the peacemakers, not the powerful, who will be blessed, and it is the merciful who will find mercy.

Our problem today is that we do not see how radical this teaching is. We take it for granted. We not only take it for granted—we have become sentimental about it. We hear the sweetness of these words and ideas, and they have become for us a bit like the feel-good sayings on greeting cards. We comfort ourselves with the precious wisdom of these famous words, but we’ve forgotten their radical power.

The fact of the matter is that most of us still live by the default setting of the human race, which is the opposite of the Beatitudes. We enter the everyday world striving for the “P” words: power, prestige, prosperity, and pleasure. We do everything we can to avoid being meek, poor in spirit, pure in heart, persecuted, and merciful.

The best way to reverse this tendency is to work with the needy. Pope Francis’ emphasis on the poor reminds us that, in reaching out and helping the poor, we discover our own poverty of spirit.

In helping the meek and downtrodden, we recognize our own deep need to rely only on God.

In helping those who cry out for mercy, we realize our own need for mercy.

In building bridges of peace and understanding, we see our own contributions to hatred, strife, and division.

This is the final point of Christ’s beautiful Beatitudes: that we are able to see the world and ourselves from a new perspective. The Beatitudes teach us to understand as the deepest level of our experience that the last shall be first and the first last–or to put it in the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52).


Blessed are…

1. “…the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (MT 5:3).

The humble are the happiest!

2. “…those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (MT 5:4).

God will heal the broken-hearted.

3. “…the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (MT 5:5).

In quietness and confidence will be your strength!

4. “…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (MT 5:6).

God satisfies the heart that is hungry for Him.

5. “…the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (MT 5:7).

Love one another and you will receive love!

6. “…the pure in heart, for they will see God” (MT 5:8).

Purity is power; power is pure!

7. “…the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (MT 5:9).

To make peace you must be as trusting as a child.

8. “…those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (MT 5:10).

Many enter heaven through the gate called “suffering.”


Father Dwight Longenecker is the author of The Romance of Religion (Thomas Nelson). View more of his writings at

This article was originally published in RTJ/Creative Catechist, September 2014.

Image Credit: Alefbet / Shutterstock 585334085

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