Each beatitude proclaimed in this Sunday’s liturgy celebrates a deficiency. That’s right. Jesus, through the pen of St. Matthew, honors our brothers and sisters in faith who lack some portion of life and whom others might dismiss.
The poor in spirit are believers who recognize their inner poverty. They have gazed thoughtfully into their own souls and discovered an emptiness there that only God can fulfill.
Those who mourn are the brothers and sisters who have experienced a loss in their life — perhaps a death, perhaps a separation, perhaps a broken relationship. Suddenly, they are startled and saddened by the void that has surfaced in their lives.
The meek in Scripture are not the shy and diffident souls that today stand on the sidelines of daily life. The meek of the ancient world were those without property, without resources, and therefore without power. Compared to the mighty with clout, these were the believers lacking in influence, sway and authority.
The very words “hunger and thirst” connote an absence. Hunger indicates lack of food; thirst signals lack of drink. These blessed are those who recognize the appetite and the discipline necessary to achieve holiness. They remain unsatisfied.
The merciful are those who can extend sympathy and compassion to their fellow believers because they recognize how merciful God has been to them in their own sorry state. Spiritually hollow apart from God’s grace, they can open their hearts and their hands to their fellows in need.
The clean of heart are deficient because they have willingly divested themselves of all earthly fascinations and attractions. Their lives are focused on God; their thoughts are attentive to him; they shun earthly enticement.
To be a peacemaker is to forego control, to cede the other point of view, to recognize the dignity of the other side. A peacemaker admits that he still has things to learn, that others do have things to offer. He is prepared to admit his insufficiencies and seek common ground.
The persecuted and the insulted are those who are ready to admit that they are not part of the larger community. They are outsiders; they are misunderstood; they are maligned. They are only too keenly aware that when it comes to social standing and acceptance, they are woefully in need.
Jesus commences his memorable Sermon on the Mount by honoring these eight deficient groupings because he knows that, with faith, these inadequacies can become the occasion for spiritual growth. Each one of these blessed clusters is dramatically confronted with the emptiness that is native to every human life. Each one of these sainted categories is significantly challenged, not to despair over their lack, but to hope in the promise of God who alone fulfills every human need.
The Beatitudes are the profound and poetic expression of one of the most basic truths of revelation: Our God is a God who brings good out of evil, light out of darkness, life out of death. Evil and darkness and death are deficiencies. They fall short of the glory of God and of the dignity of man.
But the God of revelation continually addresses evil and darkness and death. He responded to the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt. He reached out to the Jews exiled in Babylon. He embraced Christ dead on the cross and raised him anew on Easter morning. He reaches into the heart of every repentant sinner and fashions there a new saint. The blessed of the beatitudes are those who are willing to admit a fundamental evil, an essential darkness, an original sin, within their own souls and then invite God into their lives to transform their unique fatal flaw into an occasion of grace, an opportunity for renewal, a chance for growth.
God’s original creation was out of nothing; and man still admires his achievement. God’s new creation through Christ is fashioned out of sin, out of evil, out of darkness; how much more wonderful is this new creation which the world calls Christianity. The admission of faults and flaws by Christians is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength — strength that comes not from our own minds and hearts but from the mind and heart of God himself. “Strength is made perfect in weakness,” wrote St. Paul, summarizing perfectly, as one might expect, the spirit of the beatitudes.