Blessed Are the Gentle…the Merciful…the Peacemakers

(From The Beatitudes) Matthew 5:1-12

This morning we continue where we left off last Sunday. Jesus has ascended the hillside, also known as the mount. The disciples and the expectant crowd surround him as he speaks.

Ten times he singles out people and calls them “blessed”. We call these 10 sayings the Beatitudes.

Today we focus on three more of the Beatitudes or Blessings.

“Blessed Are the Gentle…the Merciful…the Peacemakers”

These three categories appear to share some overlapping traits. Let us begin with the first.

Blessed are the gentle:

Josh Dryer, a blogger from the Baptist tradition says;

“There are few words in the NT that are more misunderstood by the general reader then this word translated gentle or meek. Especially in the Western culture, gentleness and meekness are often times paralleled with weakness. Therefore, gentleness, meekness, and weakness are considered by many to be synonyms and also carry a negative connotation in Western culture.”

In this context our translation from the Greek leads us to use the English word “gentle” but the best way to explain the Greek word is in the form of a negative. “Gentleness”, here, is meant as the opposite to self-assertiveness or self-interest.

In other words, blessed are those who are able to embrace the needs of others before they focus on their own. This sounds so counter cultural yet it is exactly what Jesus expected from his followers.

Some embraced his call to transform their lives and to live this out in practical terms, others, like in the story of the rich young man, simply walked away heartbroken, unable to honor this principle.

It is virtually unthinkable for us to commit ourselves to living like this but every time we do, we are surprised by our experience.

James Keller said, “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”

There is an anonymous saying that goes like this;

“Learn to love without condition. Talk without bad intention. Give without any reason. And most of all, care for people without any exception.”

Jesus said, those who practice this principle shall inherit the earth.

What does that mean? It simply means that this is the path to a place in God’s kingdom where love reigns supreme.

“Blessed are the merciful”.

What does Jesus mean with “the merciful’?

Jesus once told a parable. It was about a person who owed a considerable amount of money to someone who pled for mercy because he could not repay his loan. When offered mercy he turned on a person who owed him a few pennies and threatened and harassed this person to come up with the money or else.

It was a lesson in mercy. It was about the unpayable debt we owe God for God’s love for us and our duty to treat others with that same merciful love. We have no other alternative, as followers of Jesus, but to treat others mercifully. If not, we should not count on God’s merciful love for us.

And finally, “Blessed are the peacemakers”.

Peacemakers, in this context, are those who build bridges where relationships have become broken. It could be on a personal level when relationships are shattered and it could be on a societal level or communal level where groups become painfully alienated from one another.

In the context of our own society the raw pain still present among Native Americans and the ongoing frustration and suffering in the African American communities in our country are two prime examples. Without reconciliation there can be no resolve. Reconciliation is never achieved by a few small token acts of restitution or a few brave speeches by well meaning people. Reconciliation is hard work. It is painful work. It is risky work. That is why so little of it ever gets done. The lack of courage on the side of the one or the other sabotages the best of intentions at times.

Jesus confirms that those who engage in such acts of reconciliation are truly recognized as God’s people.

I am no example to follow when it comes to reconciliation for when you look back on your life there are too many failed relationships for one to pride yourself in a success or two. Far too many times one’s courage deserts you when you know you should step up and do and say what is right.

One of the few successes I can personally count happened in a church I served when a black South African pastor made his appearance at one of our services. He admitted later on that he had heard of this Afrikaans minister and he came expecting to be disappointed. Somehow we became friends and we shared the pulpit a few times.

One Sunday Sam and I shared the sermon time to talk about racism in the context of our experiences in South Africa. To my surprise I felt an overwhelming urge to ask this man’s forgiveness for what I and my people had done to him and his folks in South Africa.

Deeply moved Sam stood up and acknowledged that guilt comes from two sides and asked my forgiveness for what his people had done to mine. We embraced in tears in front of a congregation who new something extraordinary had just happened.

For a moment in my life I was sure I heard the angels sing.

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.”

As ordinary people we succeed and fail at these sacred tasks quite spectacularly from time to time. It keeps us humble to remember that no one can point a finger at another in judgment but it calls us into a community of people walking together, practicing at getting it right. When we do the angels sing and when we don’t we are called to repent and try again.

These beatitudes are the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we love God and claim discipleship in Jesus, we will make this the foundation of our own lives. May it be so. Amen.

 

Matthew 5

When Jesus* saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 ‘Blessed are the gentle, for they will inherit the earth.

6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.