In his famous song, James Taylor sings that when you are “down and troubled and you need some loving care, ” you just have to “call out his name” and he will be there, “yes, you have a friend.” These words could just as well have been written by Jesus as Carole King.
In many ways, his beatitudes have become my friend since I authored the book, Blessings for Leaders. It has taken me all over the country speaking and listening to other’s insights about these beatitudes. The beatitudes teach us from a deep font of the wisdom of Jesus.
If we become poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry, merciful, pure of heart, peacemaking and persecuted for the sake of righteousness, we discover glimpses of the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:1-12). There is abundant paradox in these eight proverbs. To be poor in spirit, for example, is exactly the opposite of what it sounds like. I grew up thinking that these were the poor folks who were not good at praying the rosary or who had a hard time concentrating at Mass. While that resonated with me, it was not what Jesus was teaching here.
Poverty of spirit is the starting point for these beatitudes just as they are for leadership, life and stewardship ministry. To be poor in spirit means to place your total trust and confidence in God, to be so desperate for God’s presence in your life that you realize you are naught without it. Remember that it was the rich in spirit, the scribes and Pharisees, those who had it all figured out, with whom Jesus was most despondent.
The wisdom flows from this first beatitude to each that follows along a path that reminds me of the road to Emmaus. Jesus accompanies us as we explore the wonders of being comforted because we mourn our losses and the misfortune of others. We inherit the earth when we become down-to-earth humble in our interactions with each other. We are satisfied when we hunger for righteousness. We begin to wonder: Who thinks this way? Praying the Our Father is praying by the beatitudes, most profoundly evident in finding mercy by being merciful. Jesus connects the heart to the eyes when he teaches us to become pure of heart so we can see God all around us. Running toward conflict to become a peacemaker endows us as children of God. And finally, we sprint all the way to the Kingdom of Heaven when others become critical of our beatitude ways and persecute us for living, loving and leading by these very beatitudes.
At the end of these eight proverbs, we not only discover we are just beginning the journey into three chapters of Matthew citing Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, we also find ourselves glowing in the Kingdom of God. Indeed, when we are down and troubled, and we need a helping hand, we can find Jesus in these beatitudes, and he is very much our friend.
By Dr. Dan R. Ebener, professor, School of Organizational Leadership, St. Ambrose University, Davenport, Iowa