Interpreting the Beatitudes to Children & Youth
Bible study notes from Neil MacQueen
Beatitudes are like one-line parables. Jesus takes familiar words, images, and religious ideas, and turns them upside-down to make us think deeper, more unconventional thoughts about the real meaning of life, faith and serving. You cannot exhaust their meaning.
Even though the Beatitudes are remembered as individual verses, it is easy to see that they are very much related - as if Jesus is describing one attitude with many different facets. I would encourage you to teach them as if they are related, because they will illuminate each other. For example, a person who is "poor/needy in spirit" is very much someone who "hungers and thirsts for righteousness."
"Blessed" has occasionally been translated as "happy." But "happy" is a misleading word for such a profound concept, especially to children who usually define happiness in terms of an emotional feeling. Knowing you are poor in spirit is not merely a "happy" warm-fuzzy condition. It is not a sense of reward or a stupid grin on your face. It is not 'happy' to be so poor you do not have enough to eat.
Blessed-ness is an inner strength that comes from the knowledge and trust that God is with you and in control, whether you are smiling or crying, when you feel empty, when you're trying to make peace, when people persecute you.
Jesus tried to redefine the word "blessed" and we should too, rather than throwing the word away.
Here are the Beatitudes and some comments, as well as, my attempt at rephrasing them in today's language to get them closer to what Jesus might have meant. I would expect you to expand and improve upon them in your teaching.
And Jesus taught them saying...
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Most people think Matthew's "poor in spirit" is likely closer to what Jesus meant than Luke's simpler version, "poor" (Luke 6:20). Why? Because the phrase "poor in spirit" is a better fit with the spiritual meanings of all the other "inner" attitudes Jesus is addressing in the passage.
A person who is poor "in spirit" knows they are in need. A person who thinks they are "full enough" doesn't think they need God. Blessed are those who know they need God....
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
When you first hear the word "mourn" you think of the kind of sadness you have when a family member dies. But "those who mourn" can also be about those who cry out for what we have lost, or need to get back. Here, the Biblical word "lament" is probably more helpful. Laments in the Bible are never just personal. They are a lament for the world, for the way things are, for the trouble we are experiencing as a people. People who lament, also CARE. And the comfort they look for is the coming of God into the world. "Comfort, comfort my people!" When Jesus says that those who lament with be comforted, he is speaking a prophetic word about loss and hope in the tradition of an Old Testament prophet.
Blessed are those who care about what's wrong in the world, and in their own life...
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Meek" is an old-fashioned word that needs translated "under control." In the Greek New Testament, “meek” is from the Greek term praus. It does not suggest weakness; rather, it denotes strength brought under control. The ancient Greeks employed the term to describe a wild horse tamed to the bridle.In the biblical sense, meekness is akin to servanthood, --those who humbly give God control of their life and gifts.
"inherit the earth" doesn't mean "take over." Instead, it means the "meek" are the "heirs," --those who are called the children of God. In this sense, this beatitude is very similar to the beatitude that calls peacemakers the children of God.
Blessed are those who serve God rather than themselves or the world, for they are the children of God.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Righteousness" gets a bad wrap in today's world. Jesus challenged the conventional meaning of righteousness many times. Many thought they could be righteous (right) before God by following all the rules. Wherease, Jesus spoke or "being made whole, being restored, being forgiven." In a word, "healing" for themselves, for others, for the world.
"Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for healing."
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Remember when Jesus asked the lawyer "who is the neighbor?" in the parable of the Good Samaritan? The man replied, "the one who showed mercy," to which Jesus replied, "go and do likewise." This beatitude is very similar to the one before it. You could write them together as "Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty to show mercy."
"Blessed are those who show mercy to others...."
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Pure" has a lot of interesting and misleading meanings. It can mean "clean" ...as in, "without sin." But we already know that Jesus tells us that no one is without sin, so he must have meant something else. The Greek word for "pure" (katharos) can mean a person's motives. And indeed, even in English we often say the same thing with phrases like, "his motives are pure," or, "his hands are clean." A "pure" person is one who is not in it for themselves. They act unselfishly.
We'd all like to "see" God. But we must admit that many who surrounded Jesus could not see him at all! Their hearts were closed and eyes were shut because they didn't want to hear or see the truth Jesus was talking about. They had their motives!
Blessed are those who have open hearts and minds, for they will see God."
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
This is one of the simplest beatitudes to understand, but not so easy to follow! Being a peacemaker means trying to solve problems and heal relationships.
Blessed are those who work at making peace....
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. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
These last two beatitudes are sobering ones. Jesus is telling us that the world and certain people in it will often be against us when we try to do what is right. Being faithful is not easy, and that is why we hold hands with other Christians, and call upon Jesus for help. Notice also that Jesus doesn't say we will get rewarded in this life for
Blessed are those who do what's right in my name, even when it means paying a price....
There are many more words one could use to describe what Jesus was getting at. I hope these have helped. <>< Neil