A Reflection for All Saints’ Day

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, (for) theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I put brackets round the word “for”, because I wonder if it doesn’t unintentionally lead us to a misunderstanding of this most famous passage.

The New English Bible caused great consternation when it came up with the translation, “How happy are those who know there need of God. (Full stop) Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And although I agree that “happy” is not at all the equivalent of “blessed”, the full stop is probably nearer the mark.

What we tend to unconsciously hear is, “Blessed will be the poor in spirit (eventually), for in the end, after much trial and tribulation, they will be rewarded with possession of the kingdom.” In other words, it’s worth enduring the misery of being one of the poor in spirit, the meek or the sorrowful for the time being, because your great reward is waiting for you in heaven. Interestingly, the verse that does stress the rewards in heaven idea, is verse 12, which we haven’t included as it is a later addition that doesn’t fit with the other eight blessings,

What I’m suggesting is that the Beatitudes are not a terrible and painful way to live which will all be made worthwhile when we eventually get our reward in heaven. Quite the opposite: they are the only right, good and healthy way to live, and the blessing is already there, even though the world can’t see it.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit” stands alone as a truth. It is the right way to live even though it seems to bring no benefits in worldly terms. Jesus is unfolding a completely different vision of what matters in life. He then explains that blessing. The kingdom of heaven already belongs to people who know their need of God.

So it’s not, “Well done for being pure in heart, here’s your reward with a cherry on top – you get to see God.” But rather it’s, “The ability to see God is a rare and precious thing, and it can only happen when your heart has been mended and healed.”

None of the “states of soul” that Jesus describes are actions that we can practice or earn point by. They are all about “being”. And although it appears on the surface that such ways of being bring no blessings at all –indeed that they are costly and futile – the reality is that they are liberating, joyful and full of blessing in themselves. Why? Because they open the path for God’s grace to flow in our hearts, here and now.

No future reward necessary.

So, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” because they are already living the values of the kingdom.

“Blessed are the meek” because they already have a right relationship with creation – not raping and exhausting it.

“Blessed are those who mourn” because they are acknowledging the mystery of mortality, life and death, and the only real comfort can come when we face this.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” because they refuse to be satisfied with anything less than God.

“Blessed are the merciful” because it is in giving out compassion and forgiveness that we grow in our ability to receive it.

I’ll leave for you to unpick the other three for yourselves.

God bless                                                                                                                    Rod x

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