the anti-beatitudes

All Christians must, at some point, do serious business with the Sermon on the Mount.

It is the penultimate discourse of Jesus, his magnum opus within the Gospels. If there was a handbook on Christian living, the Sermon on the Mount would probably be it.

One topic major topic present in the Sermon on the Mount is that of peace and nonviolence. This is, unfortunately, one of the aspects of the Sermon that Christians often ignore. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. called the Sermon on the Mount the greatest manifesto of nonviolence ever written, yet so many Christians feel free to support war and violence.

When you open Matthew 5 to experience Jesus’ stunning sermon you are first greeted with the Beatitudes. These eight statements are a blueprint for the values of the kingdom of God as preached by Jesus (cf. Matt 4:17). These values are taught by Jesus over-against the dominating values of his day; violence, greed, pride etc.

Things have not changed in our time. The values of our culture are antithetical to the Beatitudes taught by Jesus. This is perhaps nowhere more obvious that in our penchant for war and violence.

In his book Put Down your Sword, John Dear says that, “every culture of war, such as Jesus lived and died in, fuels itself by an antithetical set of maxims”* to that of the Beatitudes. Dear calls these “the anti-Beatitudes”.

In our culture we have been tutored in these values, what Dear calls “the false spirituality of violence.” Jesus countered these unstated anti-Beatitudes, and so must we:

Blessed are the rich; the reign of this world is ours.
Blessed are those who make others mourn.
Blessed are the violent and the invincible, the proud and the powerful, the domineering and the oppressive.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for injustice.
Blessed are those who show no mercy.
Blessed are the impure of heart.
Blessed are the warmakers.
Blessed are those who never stand up for justice, who do not rock the boat.

The first time I read these I needed time to reflect – which Beatitudes have I really bought into, those of Jesus or those of our violent culture?

As a disciple of Jesus I cannot reject Jesus’ teachings simply because they seem unpragmatic or idealistic in our culture. Indeed, Jesus’ wisdom is not unwise because our culture cannot digest it…

… because we cannot digest it.

… because I cannot digest it.

When the anti-Beatitudes are stated as they are above, it makes the Beatitudes of Jesus seem even clearer. I wonder if the effect on you is as confronting as for me.


* John Dear, Put Down Your Sword: Answering the Gospel Call to Creative Nonviolence (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 6.

Posted on January 17, 2012, in Biblical Studies, Conflict and Nonviolence, New Testament and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hi Matt, first off great blog. I just stumbled upon it and I’m really enjoying going through your posts. On this particular topic I don’t necessarily agree. I follow Christ and I do feel free to “support war and violence” given the right circumstances. For example, if my country were to be invaded by a foreign power, I believe I would enlist in the military to help fight off the invaders. Or, if someone breaks into my house ready to hurt/rape/kill, I may use violence to resist them, especially to protect my family. I support these actions because I thirst for justice, care for my family, and am willing to risk my self to protect them. After all, there can be no greater love…

    Having said that, I am compelled to seek a peaceful solution to any situation first. To exhaust all possibilities of non-violence is the duty we feel as Christians, is it not?

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