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June 29, 2011 / Daniel

Happy are the unhappy (Matthew 5:1-12)

Church on the Mount of Beatitudes, in Israel.

Image via Wikipedia

So, I’ve been thinking about the Beatitudes this morning.  The chief theme in this text is reversal.  In its current state, this world is completely opposed to God’s values.  So, when God’s kingdom comes, it’s going to turn everything upside down, or should we say, right-side up.   The winners lose and the losers win.   To win in this fallen world, it takes self-confidence, strength,  perhaps even violence.  Darwin put it best, “Only the strong survive!”   But God’s kingdom is for the down and out.   It’s for those who have received the short end of the stick.

Here’s my translation.  I’ll give some explanation at the end.

Matthew 5:1-12

Happy are those have a broken spirit,
Because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Happy are those who grieve,
Because they will be encouraged.
Happy are the down and out,
Because they will inherit the earth.
Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
Because they will be satisfied.
Happy are those who give mercy,
Because they will receive mercy.
Happy are those who have a clean heart,
Because they will see God.
Happy are those who work for peace,
Because they will be called God’s children.
Happy are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
Because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Happy are you when they insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil about
you because of me.  Cheer up and be glad, because your reward is great in heaven, because they treated in the same way the prophets before you.

Poor in Spirit–this is a difficult expression.  Luke 6:20 reads, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”  It looks like Matthew has spiritualized Jesus’ words.   Perhaps the solution is to notice the similar construction in v. 8.   “The pure in heart” refers to those who have pure hearts.  Therefore, it is likely the expression “poor in spirit” refers to those who have poor spirits (i.e. the brokenhearted).  Based on Luke’s rendering, I take this to refer to those who have broken hearts due to economic oppression.   In other words, this blessing concerns those who live in poverty and are brokenhearted.

The meek–Who are the πραεῖς?  The English word “meek” has fallen out of usage for the most part.   Does it refer to “gentleness”?  Or to “humility”?   The key is the allusion to Psalm 37:11.  The Greek word πραεῖς is the LXX’s translation of the Hebrew עֲנָוִ֥ים.  This word has several connotations.  First, it refers to the humble, to those who rely on God in the midst of their lowly circumstances.  Second, the word refers to people who have suffered under the oppression of the wicked.



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