Why are Jesus’ beatitudes — widely considered the essence of his teachings — so absent from what is often called Christianity today?
The values, priorities and character traits Jesus calls for in what’s known as the Sermon on the Mount don’t align well with much of what drives Americanized Christianity today.
Merciful? Pure in heart? A thirst for righteousness? Hardly.
Peacemakers? Willing to suffer for doing good? No thanks; let’s talk about our privileges and rights being taken away.
Meekness? That sounds like weakness to me; I’m no sheep.
Americanized Christians don’t appear too interested in that “wimpy” stuff. They prefer a more power-driven religion that tacks Jesus’ name on it while largely ignoring what he said and demonstrated so clearly.
Trading away the beatitudes like a high mileage Buick, evangelical Christianity keeps going after something far “better” than what Jesus imagined.
There is little interest in truly following Jesus — the primary call of the Gospels. Rather, the emphasis has shifted to the manufactured concept of simply “accepting Jesus” as a way of gaining eternal acceptance.
Then, the demands of Jesus are replaced with an authoritarian requirement to “believe the Bible” (another non-biblical concept) that has morphed into nothing more than a religious/political ideology of favoritism and self-preservation at odds with what Jesus called his followers to be and do.
Beatitudes be gone. We have come up with something better: our own version of “Christianity.”
This preferred form of faith allows for embracing power politics, discriminating against vulnerable people and pursuing preferential treatment as a divine favor.
What Jesus said to those gathered around him two millennia ago was probably what they needed to hear. But, by God, we’re Americans; we don’t need no teacher blessing the poor and persecuted.
“If you set out to compile a list of values that contradict the highest aspirations of popular American culture, you couldn’t do much better than the beatitudes of Jesus, where Christ blesses the poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers,” wrote author and activist Shane Clairborne, endorsing the book, The Ninefold Path of Jesus, by Mark Scandrette (InterVarsity, 2021).
Scandrette traces the roots of the book to a conversation with a Zen Buddhist friend who, after explaining the Eightfold Path, asked: “Mark, you identify as a follower of Jesus. When you wake up each day, what do you seek to do and be?”
Scandrette said his first impulse was to explain how he became a Christian, but that wasn’t the question. He spoke of the dual commands to love God and neighbor, but wondered exactly how that is done.
Then Scandrette turned to the Sermon on the Mount — which Dallas Willard called the best example of a “curriculum for Christlikeness.” Delving into those blessings, he began thinking of these formative teachings as the ninefold path of Jesus.
“The beatitudes name nine distinct areas of human struggle that Jesus addresses in his teachings on the hill,” writes Scandrette. And they “name the illusions and false beliefs that have kept us chained and imprisoned.”
The beatitudes, he said, point us to that which is real and true, and assures us we are not helpless. These blessings “invite us to a new way of life, into a path of recovery,” said Scandrette.
He takes readers down each of these paths, with insight and conviction. There is never a soft sell — because that wasn’t Jesus’ approach either.
When reading this book — or Jesus’ words as found in Matthew 5 — one can discover or rediscover the contrasting ways of living between what Jesus taught and modeled, and how we often choose to live and relate to others.
As Scandrette puts it, “Each day I have a choice.”
“I can live by first instincts: anxiety, denial, competition, apathy, contempt, deception, division, anger and fear,” he writes, “or I can choose to live from a higher state of consciousness: trust, lament, humility, justice, compassion, right motive, peacemaking, surrender and radical love.”
May we who seek to follow Jesus choose our paths wisely.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.