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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Poetry and the forgotten Beatitude

If you’ve ever studied the poetry in the Bible, you’ve probably noticed the elevated language and lyrical flow of the King James Version (KJV.) If you want to check it out, I encourage you to focus on the Psalms, the prophetic book of Isaiah, the Gospel of John, and Jesus’ words in Matthew, especially as translated gracefully, rhythmically, and lyrically into KJV English.

With beautifully written lyrics, the beliefs and values you hold most dear will have a far greater impact than didactic or “teacherly” statements that aim to moralize. Take, for example, the KJV version of Beatitudes in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, verses 3-9.

Blessed are the poor in spirit:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn:
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek:
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do
hunger and thirst after righteousness:
for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful:
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart:
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers:
for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted
for righteousness' sake:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Notice how the rhythmic refrain of “Blessed are” and the poetic words and phrases that follow make those lines memorable – easy to remember and easy to quote.

Like me, you might have heard those biblical attitudes and even agreed with them, as I do. But, it’s the less-known Beatitude in verses 11 and 12, that brings it all home.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you,
and persecute you, and say all manner of evil
against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad:
for great is your reward in heaven:
for so persecuted they the prophets
which were before you.

I’ve read this passage for years without noticing how the impact of that often-forgotten Beatitude comes from the sudden change in viewpoint or perspective. i.e., In verses 3-10, Jesus poetically presents the attitudes He wants His followers to have, but in verses 11-12, He wraps it all up and makes it personal – comforting, empowering – as He speaks, no longer about “them,” but directly to us – “you” and me.

Blessed are you
when people insult you
and mistreat you
and say all kinds of hateful lies about you
because you follow Christ.

Rejoice! And be glad about it!
For great is the reward
your spirit receives –
as did persecuted prophets before you.

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