The Beatitudes of Jesus seem to receive less attention than other facets of his ministry. While I cannot quantitatively substantiate this statement, sermons and articles grow exponentially out of the parables of Jesus and the miracles done by him. I suspect that the rationale is that the parables and the miracles seem to offer more drama than this string of sayings grouped within the Sermon on the Mount—itself also a collection of sayings.
J. Marshall Jenkins, in Blessed at the Broken Places, mines the Beatitudes to help people connect the wounds that pile up in every life with the spirituality taught by Jesus, a spirituality that opens to God our strengths and weaknesses. Jenkins’ work reminds me of Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, particularly the first section and Peck’s honest opening sentence: “Life is difficult.” (The Road Less Traveled, p. 15). Certainly that noble truth counters much of the denial in the culture of consumerism.
As columnist David Brooks points out in a February 21, 2017 column, we all do have broken places in our lives. Jenkins’ own thesis shows up in this passage late in the book:
I find that the Beatitudes beautifully restore my confidence that, however, suffering comes, taking up my cross and following Christ through the suffering leads to greater joy than I would know by following the ways of the world. The world promotes not gratitude but the myth of self-made success, not honest mourning but denial, not humble self-restraint but brash self-promotion, not the desire for right relationships but looking out for number one, not compassion but competition, not single-minded devotion to God but pragmatic fragmentation, and not peace but exclusion. As I awkwardly step away from the ways of the world’s corrupt common sense and grope toward the ways of Christ’s self-giving love, I regain my faith in faith. (p. 138)
Jenkins examines each of the Beatitudes to glean insight for our human pilgrimage. He offers examples from the lives of friends and from his own life to bring light and guidance. Beyond the anecdotes, Jenkins brings into play insights from writers as diverse as Marjorie Thompson, Mohandas Gandhi, Barbara Brown Taylor, Gerald May, Frederick Buechner, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Jenkins suggests spiritual practices that relate to the different sayings, e.g., hungering for righteousness connects with the practice of discernment. His work is a well-researched description of spiritual malaise with guidance for healing.
While the book offers insights for individuals, Jenkins also offers guidance for depth conversation in small groups. The questions at the end of each chapter will help frame and connect conversation about the content with the lives of those in the group conversation. In addition to those in small groups, Jenkins’ book will also offer wisdom to those who preach and strive to extend healing in the broken places of life.
Blessed at the Broken Places: Reclaiming Faith and Purpose with the Beatitudes, by J. Marshall Jenkins. Skylight Paths Publishing, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-59473-633-9.