Study Guide for The Beatitudes: Finding New Meanings Within the Language Jesus Spoke
CHAPTER ONE Uneasy are the Translators
1. Take a minute to draw or describe your image of heaven on a piece of paper. Compare your concept to what others in your group describe. What leads each person to the vision they hold for life after death?
2. Write down the six most important characteristics of God. Which traits do the Old Testament teach most clearly? Which traits do the New Testament teach most clearly?
3. How have the following things impacted your image of God – childhood learning, group Bible study, private meditation on the Scriptures, personal experience? How has your understanding of God changed from when you were a child?
4. If a Greek word can mean several things (pneuma = spirit, breath, or wind), what factors might a translator fall back on when choosing which English word to substitute?
5. A word or phrase in Aramaic often possesses many layers of meaning that can apply to the mind, body, and spirit. It can deal with the internal dynamics of a person as well as the interactions with people. What happens to the potential for diversity of meanings when it’s translated to a different language? Which meaning is most important for a translator to choose—mind, body, or spirit?
6. What do you think it means that the prophets (and Jesus) said we would all be taught by God (John 6:45) and that God will write his law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33)? Can you give an example of how you’ve been taught by God?
7. Do you think you give the same weight to what your heart says as to what the words in the Bible say? Why or why not?
8. Many Westerners think to be “blessed” is to possess that which is good – not only material belongings, but also things like peace, comfort, or security. How is the concept of “ripe” different from this?
9. The New Testament clearly states the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are within you. How can this be – do you believe this? If this is true, are they silent or do they speak?
CHAPTER TWO Take a Deep Breath
1. What has the phrase “poor in spirit” meant to you? How did you develop that understanding?
2. How does converting the word “blessed” into “maturing, ripening, or coming to completion” change your understanding that being poor in spirit could be a good thing?
3. How does humility fit in a society that encourages an attitude of “you are number one,” prove you are better than everyone, work your way to the top, etc.?
4. What takes your breath away because of the awe and wonder it displays?
5. Why is it difficult to think of heaven as existing on earth in the present day? Is there a possibility that Genesis could be translated inaccurately? Is it possible that there could be more than one layer to the concept of “heaven?”
6. If words in Aramaic can have many layers of meaning, can the words “heaven” and “earth” have meanings that apply to mind, body, or spirit? What might some of those layers be?
7. How can being poor in spirit/breath bring heaven into your possession today? (i.e., theirs “is” the kingdom of heaven)
8. How might those who take time to focus on their breathing have greater access to the “kingdom of heaven”? Is there more than one kingdom?
9. Does expanding your concept of heaven and earth necessitate that you let go of a previous understandings of them?
CHAPTER THREE Who Am I Now?
1. Mary and Martha mourned the loss of their brother, Lazarus. They were beginning to redefine who they were without him in their lives. Jesus mourned the loss of his friend, Lazarus. He wept over Jerusalem. Is it “wrong” to mourn? Is it wrong to grieve for too long?
2. Name some things you’ve lost in your life for which you mourned or continue to mourn. Can you think of anything positive that has come as a result of that loss?
3. Concerning your loss, how did what was lost help you define yourself at that time in your life? What provided the greatest comfort for you during those difficult times?
4. Who are you now without that support?
5. Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. What does this teach about the process of maturation, or being “blessed”?
6. How can emotional turmoil or confusion in life lead you to greater maturity or completion as a person?
7. Change can be devastating. People adapt and redefine themselves or they don’t. If you develop a new definition for yourself, how can that upset the people around you?
8. What lessons have you learned from your experiences of loss that might help you become more effective in your efforts to comfort others? (Does hearing the details of the losses of others while you are hurting give you comfort?)
9. Can you identify anything in your life that you are leaning on heavily—something you’re using to support an image of yourself—but might not be helping you become ripe, full and complete? Look for things that might be false supports, no longer necessary, that endorse self-delusion and need to be removed for you to reach completion.
CHAPTER FOUR A Tale of Two Trees
1. What is the 21st century connotation given someone who is considered “meek?” Put a picture to that image by naming someone from a movie, television show, or your past.
2. Would there be any advantage for the world if the person you named in question #1 “inherited/possessed the earth” and became its leader?
3. When it comes to both civil courts and religion with its rules, why are those who bend considered weak and those who stand firm considered strong? Is this a fair analogy?
4. How does this beatitude apply at an internal level of meaning? What is flexible within you and what is rigid within you?
5. What prompts you to dig your feet in and refuse to move from your position? Is that strength? Can you think of any times Jesus refused to listen? Is “refusing to listen” a characteristic you see in God? Is the God who dwells within you a listener to all people?
6. When you are pushed to the point of bending over backward in a difficult circumstance, how might that have lasting effects on you?
7. Why do some people repress their true desires? Has the church helped or hindered you in setting you free to be yourself? How could you come closer to “ripeness” by softening what is rigid inside?
8. Internal dynamics are very complex. You may know people who are reactive and some who are responsive in the face of change. Which kind of response appears more like strength brought under control and how do you achieve that?
9. How could “inheriting the earth” be seen as a reference to controlling yourself or your actions?
CHAPTER FIVE The Department of Righteousness
1. If you could design a Dept. of Righteousness for the U.S., how might it look different than the current Dept. of Justice?
2. Is justice the same thing as righteousness? Was Jesus just or righteous? Some denominations emphasize that believers are “clothed in the righteousness of Christ.” Does it change the meaning to suggest that believers are clothed in the justice of Christ?
3. Are there instances of utilitarian justice and avenging justice being approved today? How do those who follow Christ reconcile using these forms of justice?
4. What was the sin of Sodom, according to Ezekiel? Why hasn’t the church placed greater emphasis on these sins?
5. New Testament justice is restorative and distributive. What examples are there in our society of these kinds of righteousness?
6. What kind of justice/righteousness do you hunger and thirst for when someone has harmed you? …when you have harmed another? …when you harm or condemn yourself?
7. Have you been in a situation where you were motivated to act so that your own needs for food, clothing, shelter were met? How does it make you feel to see some people who are physically able to work take advantage of the system? Considering the circumstances from which many came, would you willingly trade places with them? Have you ever taken advantage of “the system”?
8. Do you ever punish yourself for mistakes you make? How might you use restorative justice on yourself? Can you use distributive justice on yourself?
9. What does it mean to hunger and thirst for justice? If you aren’t doing anything about injustice, does that mean you’re not ripe yet? What did Jesus mean that “you will be filled” if your desire for righteousness is so great that your life depends upon it?
CHAPTER SIX Walk a Mile in My Shoes
1. What situations have you experienced that give you empathy for another person who is in a difficult situation?
2. Have you ever mentally tried to get into someone else’s skin so you could understand their point of view? Has it made you more merciful?
3. Do Christians have any obligation to be merciful to things that are not human, i.e., the natural world? What happens when we aren’t merciful to the natural world? What happens when we are merciful?
4. Can you give mercy with the expectation of receiving something in return?
5. Does God require obedience in order to preserve forgiveness? Do you require obedience of others in order for them to receive and keep your forgiveness?
6. When you attach expectations to your actions, how do you set yourself up for disappointment? Can you imagine a joyful God when so many expectations go unmet every day? How does God find peace?
7. How might detachment from self-serving expectations help you to become more merciful? Can impartiality (removing yourself from the need to control of the outcome) help you become more peaceful? Why is it hard to set someone free to be the person God created them to be?
8. How does the Golden Rule (Treat others the way you want them to treat you) support this beatitude?
9. If you grant mercy to someone—setting them free from paying a penalty for their sin, can they reject it? If they reject your mercy, do you withdraw the freedom you gave them?
CHAPTER SEVEN Singleness of Purpose
1. What did you want to do (for a career) as you were growing up? What drew your interest to that kind of occupation? Was there any occupation you didn’t want to do?
2. What factors impact your choices concerning what you do with your time today? Do you have a purpose that helps you get out of bed, off the couch, or away from the television set?
3. What would motivate you to let go of unproductive activities that merely kill time? Is a full schedule an indicator of purpose in life?
4. What is joy? How does being focused on a single purpose bring joy? Does having a purpose that only serves oneself bring true joy?
5. What is the relationship between passion and purpose? How might you find your passion?
6. Have you ever thought about feeling abundant inside as part of the wealth of life? Has your Christian upbringing taught you to feel abundant inside?
7. If you thought of the fruits of the Spirit as something you can harvest for yourself, would this increase your motivation to be a laborer in the field?
8. Can you think of examples of people who did their best work when they were nearest the end of their life? Is your passion something you think of as “work?”
9. Many Christians retire at an age when wisdom and experience are at their peak. Then they retire from everything they thought of as work, including church leadership. What can be done to change the way we think about church “work” since people rarely leave anything that brings them joy and fulfillment?
CHAPTER EIGHT Lehmah Gbowee – Peacemaker
1. What is your reaction when someone with whom you’ve been at odds demands concessions from you in order to settle your disagreements? What happens when he or she starts being nice to you? How long does it take before you begin to trust the actions are sincere?
2. When have you found fear to bring peace sooner than kindness? How is the peace of Christ different from cessation of fighting?
3. What ingredient must follow kindness in securing the kind of peace that is desired? (Luke 11:8; Luke 18:1-5)
4. How is peacemaking like farming? Can you imagine using this process to resolve ongoing battles in your family, at your workplace, etc.? What other options do you have?
5. Do you consider yourself a child of God? Why? Are you an image of peace? If a person isn’t an image of peace, are they a child of God?
6. How can a person facilitate the peacemaking process when the war you’re trying to moderate is raging inside you? Are there voices from your youth that struggle with what you want to listen to today?
7. Are there areas other than religion where you allow the things you were taught as a child to take priority over reasonable information you receive as an adult? Example: pagans/unbelievers are godless (i.e., bad) people.
8. St. Paul said if we are led by the Spirit of God we are children of God (Rom. 8:14, 16) and we received the Spirit of adoption (vs. 15, 23). Do adopted children look like their parent? Did Jesus say we are adopted children or true children when we are born from above? What does your tradition teach and what do you think?
9. Children of God possess the potential to reflect the image of God and to be a channel of His peace. If we live in that image, as brothers and sisters of the Prince of Peace, then we will be the peacemakers in the world—we will be ripe and all people will benefit. What can you do today to bring peace into your world?
CHAPTER NINE Not Going with the Flow
1. Where do you see yourself going with the flow in your daily life? What kinds of things disrupt that flow? How do you react to the disruption? Do you ever question the flow?
2. It’s often acceptable and good to follow the norms. At what point does it become unacceptable to follow along with everyone else?
3. Has anyone made you feel bad when you did the right thing? What does “persecution” look like today? How can persecution be a good thing?
4. Why will those who try to bring justice, i.e., equal rights, equitable distribution of goods to the poor, dignity to the outcasts, protection of the environment, etc., always be persecuted? For what reasons was Jesus persecuted by the religious community?
5. What makes a person a prophet? Are there any prophets in your church or community?
6. How would you define or describe “the flow” in religion today? Are there any prophets trying to change the course of the river? Why is it a fearful thing to change the course of a river?
7. The Pharisees did not think Jesus was “righteous.” They thought he was led by Beelzebub (Matt. 10:25; 12:24). How does a person decide who is righteous?
8. Who or what in your community needs a prophetic voice to stand against the flow? What would be the reaction?
9. What would the first step be to trying to make a change?
CHAPTER TEN The Rewards of Righteousness
1. What rewards have you experienced because you did the right thing by standing up against injustice?
2. Have you ever been reviled? What does that look and feel like? Is it anything like bullying tactics?
3. What events in your life have brought you the greatest personal growth—to the degree that you felt “exceedingly glad?” How high on your list of potential rewards is personal growth?
4. People tend to measure the worth of doing something in terms of cost to benefit. Are there any selfish rewards to standing up to injustice? What are the heavenly rewards that you might experience on earth?
5. What are the greatest injustices in our society? What benefit can you see for yourself if they were addressed equitably, harmoniously, and amicably?
6. How can this beatitude be interpreted at the internal level—are there voices inside you that resist wanting to help the poor, marginalized, and outcast? Is there any voice standing up for them? Have you ever experienced this kind of internal conflict?
7. People rarely risk their life or career for a cause unless they believe the reward outweighs the pain and struggle. What is worth being shamed, beaten, and crucified for? What would you rather have than life?
8. Which of the introspective Beatitudes speaks to you most directly today? Which of the societal Beatitudes speaks the loudest for you today?
9. How might seeing the seeing the diversity of interpretations of the Beatitudes impact the way you approach other teachings from the Bible?
Permission is granted by Paul W. Meier and Malcolm Creek Publishing to make copies of these questions for use in small group discussion.