If you can cope with the skittish (though well-executed and fun) “DON’T GET BORED DURING ALL THE GREEK WORDS, YOUNG PEOPLE!” visuals, this video by Revd Jonathan Fisk is well worth the fourteen minutes of your time:
Revd Fisk presents a very interesting argument (derived from David Scaer) for reading the Beatitudes as gospel rather than law: as a Christ-centred proclamation of blessing, rather than as hammer-blows which leave us reeling at our failure to live up to the demands which a law-centred interpretation places upon us. (As in the Sunday-school formula, “BE-attitudes”: “BE humble, BE sorrowful, BE meek” etc. In short, “Do this and you will live be blessed”.)
The key point is that the Beatitudes were spoken by Jesus to “the disciples” (that is, the apostles), not “the crowd”. They are blessings pronounced to those who are already Jesus’ followers, not the conditions of entry for outsiders.
Revd Fisk argues that the Beatitudes have a chiastic structure (A-B-C-D-D’-C’-B’-A’), so that each blessing has to be interpreted in the light of its parallel working from the other end. When we do that we find that those who are “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” are the same as those who are “poor in spirit”, and so on. Then in the final Beatitude, added on at the end, Jesus confirms that his blessings have not been for aimed at some theoretical, perfect super-saints, but at the real, flawed followers in front of him: “Blessed are you…”.
But it was Revd Fisk’s final point, right at the end, that I particularly wanted to share here:
There are other ways you can handle the text. At the end of the day, how you interpret a text must come down to the rule of faith. You cannot depart from the teaching of the catholic church. Not Rome: the true one church.
What is that teaching? That salvation is a work that Christ does for you; that Jesus didn’t come to be a new Moses – something greater than Moses is here; that salvation is by grace through faith, for the sake of the atoning death and resurrection of Christ.
That is why I’m a Lutheran: that consciousness of representing an evangelical catholicity; the insistence that the gospel proclamation, “salvation is a work Christ does for you”, is itself the rule of faith, the teaching of the true one catholic church, and thus the only final test of any interpretation of Scripture. What matters is not that we find the One True Interpretation™ of every biblical text, but that every interpretation we do make conforms to the rule of faith; that is, to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And the Beatitudes are far from the only biblical text to which that principle needs to be applied. (*cough* Genesis 1 to 3 *cough*)