Reading the Beatitudes in Context

I started seminary this week. After years of  prayer and months of planning, I’m finally here, studying for online classes through Fuller Theological Seminary. I’ve dreamed about this for so long, at times it still doesn’t feel real. How is it that I am so blessed?

I’m taking two classes this fall — Church and Mission in Global Contexts, as well as Christian Ethics. Both classes have already sparked much thought, but it is the latter that prompted this post.

As a part of my reading for Christian Ethics, I have begun to work my way through Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, by Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee. During the second chapter, titled “Virtues of Kingdom People,” the authors hone in on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as a framework for Christian Ethics. As part of their discussion, Stassen and Gushee present a paraphrase of the beatitudes that seeks to illuminate what Jesus words would have meant in their original context. While this paraphrase is reminiscent of the words so familiar to many of us, the suggested connotations to Jesus’ statements are profound.

Blessed are the humble before God, who cares for the poor and the humble.

Blessed are those who mourn what is wrong and unjust and sincerely repent, for God comforts those who suffer and those who truly repent.

Blessed are those who are surrendered to God, who is the God of peace.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for a justice that delivers and restores to covenant community, for God is a God who brings such justice.

Blessed are those who, like God, offer compassion in action, forgiveness, healing, aid and covenant steadfastness to those in need.

Blessed are those who give their whole self over to God, who is the only One worthy of the heart’s full devotion.

Blessed are those who make peace with their enemies, as God shows love to God’s enemies.

Blessed are those who suffer because of their practices of loyalty to Jesus and to justice.

What does such a rich understanding of the beatitudes mean for us individually? How should it direct us corporately, as a church? I look forward to exploring these questions more fully in the coming weeks.

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