A sermon by Rev. Michael Gladish
"Blessed are the poor in spirit...
"Blessed are those who mourn...
"Blessed are the meek...
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake...
(Matthew 5:3-6, 10)
When we think of blessings we do not usually think of sadness, difficulty
or want. We usually think of happiness, peace and plenty. Indeed the word,
blessing, means happiness and suggests that we have everything we need.
Why, then, does the Lord seem to say the opposite? You know, practically
all of human psychology today is dedicated to the principle that we should
not be poor in spirit. They say we should be rich in spirit, meaning self-confident,
with healthy self-esteem and even self-love. They say we need to know how
to be self-assertive, to know what we want and to feel good about "going
for it." They say we can't possibly love others or be happy in society unless
we feel good about ourselves first - WHICH IN A VERY IMPORTANT WAY IS TRUE
(see D.P. #53).
But then why does the Lord plainly say that the people who are poor in
spirit are blessed - not "will be blessed" but are blessed? Why does He
say that the kingdom of heaven is theirs - not "will be theirs," but is
theirs? How can we be blessed even while we are "poor in spirit?"
We can ask the same questions of the teaching about those who mourn,
those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and of
course, most of all, those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. Really,
how can you be happy when you are being persecuted!
The answer of course rests in the fuller, deeper meaning of the Lord's
words. To be poor in spirit does not mean to be self-deprecating or to have
no self-esteem. It is simply a state of self-awareness and self acknowledgment:
in effect it is a state of knowing how little we know in relation to how
much there is to know. This isn't a sad state, it's an exciting state, full of hope and promise, full of the anticipation of
learning and growing, and, among other things, never being bored because
we know that the Lord always has more and more marvelous things to show
and teach us - forever!
The word, spirit, in the Lord's teaching specifically refers to the understanding.
It is the same as the word for wind or breath, which of course has to do
with "inspiration" [breathing in]. On the spiritual level we are "inspired"
when we get a new insight or idea, when we suddenly understand something
that has perhaps eluded us in the past. We are then filled with anticipation
and delight. But what if we are already "rich in spirit?" What if we think
we know all that we need to know in any given area? Will we be open to new
ideas? Will we be receptive? This is exactly the situation the Lord referred
to when He said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." There is nothing wrong
with natural wealth, that was not the point. The Lord was stressing intellectual
And He said of those who have this quality, "theirs is the kingdom of
heaven." Note the present tense. The word, kingdom, obviously, refers to
the realm of a king, and the king governs by means of laws. So in the spiritual
sense a king represents the truths (or falsities) by which we live in society.
And his kingdom is the whole realm of life and thought based on those principles.
Therefore we possess the "kingdom of heaven" as we acknowledge our need
and willingness to learn what the Lord teaches us in His Word. It is not
a promise, it is a fact.
The second blessing the Lord mentioned is for those who mourn. Again,
it seems like a contradiction: how can you be sad and happy at the same
time? Because it seems impossible many have supposed that the Lord was simply
talking about delayed gratification: mourn now, be happy later. Suffer now,
get your blessing later. From this perspective it might seem like we're
supposed to be miserable in this world, or that there's something wrong
with us if we enjoy our life in the world. But this is not what the passage
says. Those who mourn are blessed, and, what's more, "they will be
Now, mourning is grieving, usually over some loss. It wells up from deep
within and so has more to do with feelings than with thoughts. It, too,
is a state of awareness, a real awareness and acknowledgment of what we
will or want but often can't have. In fact it is the acknowledgment of our
self-will. And since we never have everything we want for ourselves it is
obvious that when we get in touch with these feelings we are going to be
Psychologists of course are right when they say we have to get in touch
with our feelings. And they are right when they say we shouldn't suppress
or deny these feelings. If we're bitter and resentful the first step in
healing is to admit it, and really acknowledge it, then we can face it and
with the Lord's help do something about it. But if we have a conscience
based on an understanding of the truth we will realize as part of this process
not only that we can't ever have everything we want but furthermore that
this would not be right, or good for us. And so our grief, our mourning
can take on the additional quality of sadness that we do want what we shouldn't
OK, so where is the blessing in this? The blessing is that this acknowledgment
heightens our awareness of the Lord's love and mercy. In fact without it
there can be no awareness of the Lord's love and mercy and thus by definition
no blessing, all of which comes from Him. We read, "Those who give no thought
to the evils in themselves, that is, who do not examine themselves and afterwards
refrain from evils, cannot but be ignorant of what evil is and then love
it from its delight. For he who does not know evil loves it, and he who
neglects to think about it is continually in it" (DP 101:2). You cannot
be blessed when you are unaware of the evil in your life.
On the other hand, when you are aware of it - and feel grief on account
of it - not only can you begin to appreciate His mercy in that He continues
to love you and care for you in spite of these evils, you also put yourself
in the position of being willing to receive His help. This is where the
promise of comfort comes in. Do you remember the teaching in John about
the Holy Spirit, where the Lord called this "the Comforter" and promised
to send it to them after He Himself had gone away from them (John 14:16;
16:7)? In the New King James translation this is called "the Helper," and
the same word used as a verb means "to help." That word is Paraclete or
in its verb form paracalleo, meaning to call alongside. This is the word
now used for "comfort" in the phrase, "they shall be comforted." Literally,
they shall be helped. The Lord will walk by their side.
Briefly stated, then, this is the second of the ten blessings: Happy
are those who acknowledge their evils, for they shall get help! And they'll
get it because they want it, for there is no lack of help offered by the
Lord at any time in our lives; it's just that most of the time we resist
it because we don't think we need it. "Blessed are those who mourn."
The third blessing that the Lord promised is for the meek. Now meekness
is not necessarily a problem for us, but the truth is that we often think
of the term in a derisive sense representing weakness or even cowardice,
as in the sentence, "He stood by meekly as his friend was attacked." But
if we think that this is what the Lord meant in His teaching about blessing
we could not be much farther from the truth. First of all the word here
translated "meek" really means "gentle" and suggests a spiritual softness
that is to be associated with patience and kindness, not at all with weakness
or tolerance of evil. It is indeed the weak who tolerate evil, but the truly
meek, those who are truly kind, will not tolerate evil, especially in their
own lives, and so they labour constantly and courageously to act from charity
in all that they do, shunning evils as sins against the Lord and doing what
is right and good because it is right and good.
The teaching that the meek will inherit the earth is, by the way, a direct
quotation from the Old Testament (Psalm 37:11, for example), where the Hebrew
version of the word, meek, means exactly the same thing with, perhaps, the
added notion of humility and willingness to suffer if necessary rather than
inflict suffering on others. Of course the Lord Himself gave the supreme
example of this quality when He permitted the crucifixion - not because
He couldn't prevent it but because He knew that it was necessary for the
process of His glorification to be completed. So we can follow in His steps,
not so much resisting the evils that are outside of us in others, but resisting
and indeed aggressively fighting against the evils that we find in ourselves:
evils of jealousy, greed, hatred, lust and the love of domineering, to name
just a few examples.
The Lord plainly says that when we do this we are blessed. The blessing
is in the doing. But as with those who mourn there is an additional promise,
"for they shall inherit the earth." Those of us who are familiar with the
study of correspondences know that "the earth" does not mean the planet
in a worldly sense, but our world, the world of our own experience, the
world of our minds. And surely we can all see that when we exercise the
disciplines of genuine charity we do take control of our spiritual lives,
we do inherit the "promised land" of love and wisdom from the Lord.
Before we go on to the fourth blessing (and we will only review 5 today,
leaving the other 5 for the next sermon), let's just notice that the first
three form a beautiful trilogy. The first relates to the understanding,
as we recognize our need to learn and receive the spirit of truth. The second
relates to the will, as we recognize the evils in our hearts and take advantage
of the Lord's help in overcoming them. The third now relates to the way
we behave, in that we act from charity, not from weakness but with gentleness
and kindness toward others as we fight against the evils of our own lives.
The fourth blessing that the Lord promised was for those who hunger and
thirst for righteousness, for, He said, "they shall be filled." Hunger relates
to food and thirst to drink. Again, they are both cravings and they relate
to an awareness or acknowledgment of need.
Now the food that nourishes our spirits is the goodness of love; the
drink is the knowledge of truth. And if we're hungry and thirsty we are
aware of our need for these essential things. But the teaching specifically
stresses the hunger and thirst for righteousness, which like meekness has
to do with the way we live. A curious thing in the Scriptures, incidentally,
is that the word, righteousness, probably should be translated "justice."
"Righteousness" conveys a heavy sense of doing what is strictly right, strictly
according to the truth, but that isn't what the Lord meant in His teaching
about blessing. Rather He was referring to those who long for the goodness
of life, that is, a life in which decisions are made on the basis of what
is good for people, not just on the basis of truth, which would be truth
separated from good.
This teaching therefore follows in order after the one about meekness.
For if meekness has to do with the quality of one's own life, the longing
for justice has to do with life in general - not only that we should be
treated well by others, but that others should be treated well, too. When
you look at the evil and the falsity and the hurt in your community you
naturally long for justice. And when you feel the lack of integrity in your
spiritual community your longing goes even deeper.
But those who hunger and thirst for justice are blessed. Like those who
mourn they are blessed in the recognition of what is good. They are fortunate
to know about it and they are happy to have the longing for it. True, the
lack of it makes them sad, but the blessing isn't in the lack, it's in the
longing. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they
shall be filled." Sooner or later, one way or another, their longing will
be satisfied. For whether they are given the truth in this world or not,
whether they are shown what is genuinely good in this world or not, if they
long for it they will receive it as soon as it can be provided - which in
many cases happens after death in the spiritual world. And that is no shame,
for the purpose of life in this world - which is so short - is to prepare
for life in the next - which lasts forever.
To complete our series today we are going to skip the next 3 in the sermon
on the mount and go directly to the 8th, where we read about those who are
persecuted for justice's sake. Though not in order - and the order is important
- this fits the series as one of the apparent contradictions in the Word:
how can anyone be blessed if he is being persecuted?
The answer, like the answer to the other questions we have raised, lies
in understanding the teaching on a deeper level. Remember, the persecution
is not for just any reason, it is on account of justice, "for justice's
sake." This means the person is being attacked for taking a stand in favour
of justice. It reminds me of the apostle, John, who described himself at
the beginning of the book of Revelation as "your brother and companion in
tribulation," and who said he was "on the island that is called Pat mos
for the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." This does not
mean that he went there to preach. No one was there! He was banished to
the island because of his preaching. He was being persecuted for justice's
Now remember, you can't get to heaven unless you know the truth, or at
the very least love what is good so that you can learn the truth in time.
But those who are in evil and falsity hate the truth, and they hate what
is genuinely good. So when they see or feel it they attack it. This is especially
true of evil spirits who as a result of their confirmed states have no inhibitions
about their evils or their desire to attack the good. And because they are
spirits, in a sense there is no escaping them. Wherever there is good they
will attack and persecute it, just as they did the Lord Himself.
What does this mean for us? Look at the positive side: if we had no sense
of justice we couldn't be attacked "for justice's sake." But if we are so
attacked and persecuted it is a sign that we have this quality and that
it is working within us. The fact that we are caught up in temptations does
not mean that we are worse than other people, it means that we have a good,
working con science, and in this conscience we are blessed! We know what
is right. We actually have the kingdom of heaven within us. So again, the
kingdom is not promised at some future time, we read simply, it is
theirs. All we have to do is maintain the effort to hold on to it.
We will review this last teaching and the others about persecution next
month along with the three beautiful blessings about the merciful, the pure
in heart and the peacemakers. For now, and in conclusion, let us do what
we can to remember, integrate and reflect on the fact that all these blessings
relate to internal, spiritual states, and that all of the ones we have reviewed
today relate especially to states of acknowledgment or self-awareness. "The
kingdom of God," Jesus said in Luke, "does not come with observation; nor
will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For behold, the kingdom of God
is within you" (Luke 17:20-21).
Bad things happen. And there are bad things within each of us. But when
we see them and acknowledge them we are taking the first steps toward genuine
happiness and peace, indeed toward the spiritual wealth and prosperity that
is the blessing of heaven. The beatitudes were the very first systematic
teachings of the Lord in His ministry. In a sense they contain all things
that follow. Not only do they tell us what to do first (in acknowledging
our needs), they assure us of the Lord's active presence in that work so
that we can feel His love and wisdom as we do it. And finally, of course,
they promise even more fulfillment in the future as with the Lord's help
we sustain our efforts and discover the profound reality of inner peace,
"the peace of God that surpasses all understanding" (Phil 4:7), "peace that
flows as a river from the eternal Source alone" (hymn 126).
Lessons: Matthew 5:1-12, Psalm 37:1-11, Divine Providence #53