Introduction to Teaching the Beatitudes to Children
by Vicki Cole
The Beatitudes are the “overture” to the Sermon on the Mount, found in the Gospel of
Matthew. The entire Sermon contains the essence of the teachings of Jesus, and is the
evidence and demonstration of the character of Christ. These teachings were a rude
awakening to people used to the idea of “an eye for an eye” and judging righteousness
by how closely a person upheld the strict interpretations of the laws of the Old Testament. With the Beatitudes, Jesus introduced his followers to the more spiritual concept of happiness, dependent upon letting go of self-centered and self-protecting thinking and actions, as well as yielding up unloving thoughts in order to trust God with our lives.
The Beatitudes are included as part of the “first lessons” taught to children in the Christian Science Sunday School. This should alert all those interested in learning Christian Science, that the study and practice of the Beatitudes should also be one of our first objectives, no matter when we take up the study of Christian Science.
If the Ten Commandments serve to guide our actions while we are taking the first steps in our spiritual journey — sort of like traffic signals that tell us when to stop and go and yield — the Beatitudes might be said to serve as guide posts, or direction signs, along the way. We know we are heading in the right direction, if we find that we are
successfully demonstrating the qualities and attitudes that Jesus recommended for our happiness, and if we are also expressing more of the character of the Christ, and the nature of God.
Taking the time to do a little research in Bible commentaries or dictionaries, will often result in a better understanding of the intended meaning. The following details are some you might want to share if you are teaching your children or a Sunday School class:
Matthew 5, verses 1 and 2, opens the scene for the Sermon on the Mount as follows:
“Seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them,saying . . .”
From Bible commentaries, we learn more about the meaning of these introductory verses than is at first clear from the English translation of the King James Version.
A brief explanation of these phrases will help us appreciate the Beatitudes we will be studying.
The phrase “and when he was set” – in other words, “Jesus sits down” – tells us that his teaching was important and official, as opposed to the more casual instruction which Rabbis of that time might give as they stood or strolled about with their pupils.
“And he opened his mouth” is a translation of a Greek phrase which indicates serious and intimate utterances. The Sermon is Jesus speaking from the heart and soul.
When understood in the Greek, the phrase “he taught them, saying,” gives a whole different meaning. It indicates that the teachings that follow in the Sermon on the Mount were not spoken at a one-time event, but were taught repeatedly by Jesus. As William Barclay paraphrases it: “This is what he used to teach them.” (The Gospel of Matthew, Volume One, page 87)
We now have a little bit clearer picture of the whole Sermon on the Mount, of which the Beatitudes are the overture, or opening. When Jesus exclaims how blessed we are, as our attitudes conform to his teachings, we can be assured that we are witnessing and sharing in the very character of Christ. Through the Beatitudes, Jesus reveals to us ascending steps which can bring us to see our place as God’s children in the kingdom of heaven.
I would like to recommend to you one of my favorite sources for commentary on the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. It is the book The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, Revised Edition, by William Barclay, the late world-renowned Scottish New Testament interpreter. In it, he gives details on the root words, and how these would have been understood by the people of the day. I have shared some of those details in the background Information above. The book will also help you see how he arrived at the interpretation of the Beatitudes which are paraphrased by Barclay as follows:
O the bliss of the man who has realized his own utter helplessness, and who has put his whole trust in God, for thus alone he can render to God thatperfect obedience which will make him a citizen of the kingdom of heaven!
O the bliss of the man whose heart is broken for the world’s suffering and for his own sin, for out of his sorrow he will find the joy of God!
O the bliss of the man who is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time, who has every instinct, and impulse, and passion under control because he himself is God-controlled, who has the humility to realise his own ignorance and his own weakness, for
such a man is a king among men!
O the bliss of the man who longs for total righteousness as a starving man longs for food, and a man perishing of thirst longs for water, for that man will be truly satisfied!
O the bliss of the man who gets right inside other people, until he can see with their eyes, think with their thoughts, feel with their feelings, for he who does that will find others do the same for him, and will know that that is what God in Jesus Christ has done!
O the bliss of the man whose motives are absolutely pure, for that man will some day be able to see God!
O the bliss of those who produce right relationships between man and man, for they are doing a Godlike work!
CITATIONS ON THE BEATITUDES AND SERMON ON THE MOUNT FROM THE WRITINGS OF MARY BAKER EDDY
The following citations are about the importance of learning and living the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, as well as the Ten Commandments:
“If ever I wear out from serving students, it shall be in the effort to help them to obey the Ten Commandments and imbibe the spirit of Christ’s Beatitudes.” (Miscellaneous Writings, 303)
“Lean not too much on your Leader. Trust God to direct your steps. Accept my counsel and teachings only as they include the spirit and the letter of the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the teachings and example of Christ Jesus.” (Miscellany, 129)
“The thunder of Sinai and the Sermon on the Mount are pursuing and will overtake the ages, rebuking in their course all error and proclaiming the kingdom of heaven on earth. Truth is revealed. It needs only to be practiced.” (Science and Health, 174)
“Our Master said, ‘But the Comforter . . . shall teach you all things.’ When the Science of Christianity appears, it will lead you into all truth. The Sermon on the Mount is the essence of this Science, and the eternal life, not the death of Jesus, is its outcome.” (S&H 271)
“The present is ours; the future, big with events. Every man and woman should be to-day a law to himself, herself, — a law of loyalty to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.” (Miscellaneous Writings 12)
“Christian Science begins with the First Commandment of the Hebrew Decalogue, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ It goes on in perfect unity with Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, and in that age culminates in the Revelation of St. John, who, while on earth and in the flesh, like ourselves, beheld ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ — the spiritual universe, whereof Christian Science now bears testimony.” (Miscellaneous Writings 21)
“In divine Science it is found that matter is a phase of error, and that neither one really exists, since God is Truth, and All-in-all. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, in its direct application to human needs, confirms this conclusion.” (Miscellaneous Writings 25)
“Sin punishes itself, because it cannot go unpunished either here or hereafter. Nothing is more fatal than to indulge a sinning sense or consciousness for even one moment. Knowing this, obey Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, even if you suffer for it in the first instance, — are misjudged and maligned; in the second, you will reign with him.” (Miscellaneous Writings 93)
“The teachers of Christian Science . . . must themselves practice, and teach others to practise, the Hebrew Decalogue, the Sermon on the Mount, and the understanding and enunciation of these according to Christ.” (Miscellaneous Writings 114)
“The parable of ‘the prodigal son’ is rightly called ‘the pearl of parables,’ and our Master’s greatest utterance may well be called ‘the diamond sermon.’ No purer and more exalted teachings ever fell upon human ears than those contained in what is commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount, — though this name has been given it by compilers and translators of the Bible, and not by the Master himself or by the Scripture authors. Indeed, this title really indicates more the Master’s mood, than the material locality.” (Retrospection & Introspection 91)
“Genuine Christian Scientists will no more deviate morally from that divine digest of Science called the Sermon on the Mount, than they will manipulate invalids, prescribe drugs, or deny God.” (Rudimental Divine Science 3)
“The lecturer, teacher, or healer who is indeed a Christian Scientist . . . keeps unbroken the Ten Commandments, and practices Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.” (Rud. 11)
“True, I have made the Bible, and ‘Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,’ the pastor for all the churches of the Christian Science denomination, but that does not make it impossible for this pastor of ours to preach! To my sense the Sermon on the Mount, read each Sunday without comment and obeyed throughout the week, would be enough for Christian practice. The Word of God is a powerful preacher, and it is not too spiritual to be practical, nor too transcendental to be heard and understood. Whosoever saith there is no sermon without personal preaching, forgets what Christian Scientists do not, namely, that God is a Person, and that he should be willing to hear a sermon from his personal God!” (Message for 1901 11)
“The lives of those old-fashioned leaders of religion explain in a few words a good man. They fill the ecclesiastic measure, that to love God and keep His commandments is the whole duty of man. Such churchmen and the Bible, especially the First Commandment of the Decalogue, and Ninety-first Psalm, the Sermon on the Mount, and St. John’s Revelation, educated my thought many years, yea, all the way up to its preparation for and reception of the Science of Christianity. I believe, if those venerable Christians were here to-day, their sanctified souls would take in the spirit and understanding of Christian Science through the flood-gates of Love; with them Love was the governing impulse of every action; their piety was the all-important consideration of their being, the original beauty of holiness that to-day seems to be fading so sensibly from our sight.”
(Message for 1901 32)
“The ever-recurring human question and wonder, What is God? can never be answered satisfactorily by human hypotheses or philosophy. Divine metaphysics and St. John have answered this great question forever in these words: ‘God is Love.’ This absolute definition of Deity is the theme for time and for eternity; it is iterated in the law of God, reiterated in the gospel of Christ, voiced in the thunder of Sinai, and breathed in the Sermon on the Mount. Hence our Master’s saying, ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Message for 1902 5)
“Whosever understands Christian Science knows beyond a doubt that its life-giving truths were preached and practised in the first century by him who proved their practicality, who uttered Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, who taught his disciples the healing Christianity which applies to all ages, and who dated time. A spiritual understanding of the Scriptures restores their original tongue in the language of Spirit, that primordial standard of Truth.” (Miscellany 180)