Bonhoeffer on the Beatitudes

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The following is a sort of abridged version of Bonhoeffer’s writing on the beatitudes.1 The full version is better, but this is something easier to reproduce in a church bulletin or handout.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Privation is the lot of the disciples in every sphere of their lives. They have no security, no possessions to call their own, not even a foot of earth to call their home, no earthly society to claim their absolute allegiance. They have their treasure in secret, they find it on the cross.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. By “mourning,” Jesus means doing without what the world calls peace and prosperity. He means refusing to be in tune with the world or to accommodate oneself to its standards. Such men mourn for the world, for its guilt, its fate, and its fortune. They find their comfort in the cross, they are comforted by being cast upon the place where the Comforter of Israel awaits them.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. These possess no inherent right of their own to protect them in the world, nor do they claim such rights, for they are meek, they renounce every right of their own and live for the sake of Jesus Christ. Those who now possess the earth by violence and injustice shall lose it, and those who here have utterly renounced it, who were meek to the point of the cross, shall rule the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Not only do the followers of Jesus renounce their rights, they renounce their own righteousness too. They get no praise for their achievements or sacrifices. Happy are they who have the promise that they shall be filled, for the righteousness they receive will be no empty promise, but real satisfaction.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. These have renounced their own dignity, for they are merciful. As if their own needs and their own distress were not enough, they take upon themselves the distress and humiliation and sin of others. That is how Jesus, the crucified, was merciful.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Who is pure in heart? Only those who have surrendered their hearts completely to Jesus that he may reign in them alone. They are wholly absorbed by the contemplation of God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. When he called them they found their peace, for he is their peace. But now they are told that they must not only have peace but make it. The peacemakers will carry the cross with their Lord, for it was on the cross that peace was made.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The world will be offended at them. Not recognition, but rejection, is the reward they get from the world for their message and works.

Having reached the end of the beatitudes, we naturally ask if there is any place on earth for the community which they describe. Clearly, there is one place, and only one, and that is where the poorest, meekest, and most sorely tried of all men is to be found – the cross of Golgotha. The fellowship of the beatitudes is the fellowship of the Crucified. With him it has lost all, and with him it has found all. From the cross there comes the call “blessed, blessed.” The world cries: “Away with them, away with them!” Yes, but where? To the kingdom of heaven. There shall the poor be seen in the halls of joy. With his own hand God wipes away the tears from the eyes of those who had mourned on earth. He feeds the hungry at his Banquet. There stand the scarred bodies of the martyrs, now glorified and clothed in the white robes of eternal righteousness instead of the rags of sin and repentance. The echoes of this joy reach the little flock below as it stands beneath the cross, and they hear Jesus saying: “Blessed are ye!”


  1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Simon & Schuster: 1995), 105-144.
Follow Benjamin Williams:

Pulpit Minister for Glenpool Church of Christ (Glenpool, OK); BS in Astrophysics from University of Oklahoma; MDiv in Ministry from Oklahoma Christian Graduate School of Theology