A Study in the Beatitudes, Part II

In my most recent blog, I shared some things I recently learned about the first three verses of the Beatitudes. These verses speak of those who acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy, the grief they feel over their personal sin and the sin in the world, and the desired quality of meekness before God and others. 

This week, I want to continue this study by loosely applying a journaling method known as the H.E.A.R. method. Because it is a journaling approach, this blog might read a little differently from previous ones.

First, let’s take a look at the overall structure of the Beatitudes. 

As the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount, they are composed of ten verses that communicate eight beatitudes or blessings taught by Jesus. Jesus most likely taught in Aramaic, but the authors of the New Testament used the common Greek of their time as they wrote these texts down. The New Testament texts have been carefully studied and translated in order to create the many translations and versions that are widely available today. While the words may vary from version to version, the truth the Bible communicates remains the same. 

So, let’s take another look at the Beatitudes using the journaling method.

The H.E.A.R. Method: A Quick Application

H – Highlight

E – Explain

A – Apply

R – Respond

Note that this method is typically applied step by step to a single verse at a time for deeper insight. For this blog, I colored outside the lines a bit and did not stay 100% true to the prescribed method. I liked where my journaling and research led, and I wanted to share it with you. If you’re a purist (like I typically am), click here for a more detailed description of the H.E.A.R. journaling method.

Step 1: Highlight. As I read through any biblical passages, I tend to look first for repetitions since they might indicate a thought or idea the author wants to stress or point to an overall theme. “Blessed” and “kingdom of heaven” are repeated so I highlighted those in orange. I also look for patterns and highlight those. There is an interesting verb tense change in the dependent clauses (highlighted in blue). Verses 3, 10 and 12 are present tense while verses 4 through 9 are future tense. I also like to examine words or phrases that I want to better understand from a biblical perspective (highlighted in green). See below for an example: 

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

For they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek

For they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

For they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

For they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

For they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

For they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil about you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Step 2: Explain. This is the step where I have been taught to ask, “what do I need to understand about this passage in its context in order to adequately teach someone else about it?” The words or phrases I highlighted become a starting point for further research. A study Bible, commentaries and a good Bible dictionary are really useful here and can provide much-needed insight from scholars and theologians who have spent a lifetime studying, translating and researching the texts. 

In my previous post on the Beatitudes, I researched the word meek because I did not think I truly understood what the word meant. I was right, and I am now convinced it is a concept to continue learning throughout the rest of my life. 

Since it occurs so often in this passage, this week I decided to research blessed. An important starting point in understanding this passage is knowing there is a tendency for us to read the Beatitudes as if each statement were about how to receive blessings. But this is not what is entirely meant by the word makarios (translated as blessed). It is a good thing or a blessing, but the concept is more expansive than that; it is a state of being. In Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien provide a more complete picture of what this word means: “The Greeks had a word for the feeling one has when one is happy: makarios. It is a feeling of contentment, when one knows one’s place in the world and is satisfied with that place. If your life has been fortunate, you should feel makarios.”[1] Vine’s Expository Dictionary describes the meaning of makarios for this particular passage to reflect “the nature of that which is the highest good.”[2]

Step 3: Apply. Now, let’s move to verse 6 of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” 

Righteousness can be understood as a right-standing before God. It means to be reconciled with Him. Those who hunger and thirst for this kind of relationship with God will be filled with a contentment, knowing their place in the world (to paraphrase Richards & O’Brien’s words) as that of created being before Creator. This right-standing cannot, however, be obtained by human strength. The Christian belief is not that man gets reconciled with God by doing good, but that this righteousness is obtained through the blood of Christ. It is a deep understanding of the significance of what God has done in Jesus Christ and why it was necessary. Once this is truly understood and accepted, the only response can be one of deep, heartfelt repentance which then leads to reconciliation with God. A possible application for this verse might be to confront those areas of sin in our own lives which are impeding our relationship with God. A question to ask might be “do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or for an intimate relationship with God more than I do other things in my life?”

Step 4: Respond. Verse 7 declares, “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” I will admit this verse has had me stuck for nearly a week. The idea that the merciful are blessed and will be shown mercy can quickly become quid pro quo for me. I sometimes think I am so accustomed to the transactional nature of human relationships that my vision can be clouded here. 

The gift of showing mercy is a grace gift (see Romans 12). It is also one with which I have been blessed through no merit of my own. If I see this beatitude as transactional, however, my expectation will require a merciful response from others. Remember, however, these blessings are more like a state of being than a transaction. When mercy is unreciprocated, there can be a cost- hurt feelings, confusion, loss of relationship, wounded pride, the appearance of being weak (gasp!), even bitterness or resentment. The risks can be real, and the costs are seemingly high. If I think of mercy as a transaction and it goes unreciprocated, I am more apt to look at the cost of showing mercy to others than to look at the blessing. I learn here in this passage to simply allow myself to experience the blessing of being merciful toward others because this is pleasing to my Father in heaven. I let go of my expectation of reciprocated mercy in my relationships, knowing that I already have received the perfect and penultimate mercy from my Father in heaven-forgiveness of sins through the saving work of Jesus Christ in whom I have put my faith. So I choose to show mercy cheerfully (Romans 12:8), and to walk into the blessing, regardless of how others respond. This is not weakness; it is a decision, and one not made in or held to my own strength.

And often, I am pleasantly surprised by the mercy freely offered to me by others.

How most offenses I have experienced pale in comparison to my own offenses against God and others, and the mercy that has already been shown me by my Father in heaven.

I hope this illustration of the H.E.A.R. method has helped you see how journaling can better help you understand, apply and respond to Scripture. Stay tuned for more on the Beatitudes in an upcoming blog. 

Be well my friends. 

Peace, Alison

Photo credit: fizkes on http://www.istockphoto.com.


            [1] E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013). eBook, ch. 3.

                  [2] W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Jr., ed., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), 70.

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