Gospel of Matthew
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for 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 sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Beatitudes are one of the most well known of Jesus’ teachings. They are prayerful and poetic. But in many ways they are like reading a poem written in another language – they sound lovely – but they don’t make sense.
We can see the importance of being peacemakers, merciful and pure in heart – even though we may struggle to do it –but how do we choose to live a life where we delight, and that’s what Blessed means, in being poor, meek, or persecuted?
And that is what Jesus is asking us to do – not just to accept it – not to ‘offer it up’ –
not to try to move beyond it - but to live it and, more importantly, find joy in it.
We are so settled in our Christianity these days, we have our buildings and our ceremonies - we are part of the establishment.
In a recent census, people declared that they were Christian simply because they lived in Britain. Christian values have become embedded; indeed have guided the development of our civilised society and it’s rules. We are part of the system.
We are not meant to be.
Jesus is not a particularly good Jew; he doesn’t follow the 100’s of precepts; he doesn’t go to Temple; he doesn’t observe the Sabbath; he questions authority; he doesn’t accept the system, he doesn’t know his place –
today we would probably think he wasn’t a particularly good Christian – because we make exactly the same judgements as they did. We would be just as horrified at the people that he hangs around with – maybe alright to ‘work’ with them in ministry – but to be their friend; to love them?
The people who were drawn to Jesus had come from the outskirts of society, the unclean and the outcast. This was a new world for them; a world of healing, reconciliation and acceptance that didn’t judge them and didn’t ask for anything in return. They were experiencing this new world which Jesus describes as the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that doesn’t follow the world’s rules; because the world’s rules are about protecting the status quo. Jesus teaches a Kingdom that was to be spread throughout the world and these outcasts were the ones to do it.
But how? Their new world was created by Jesus; as in today’s Gospel they were probably content to rely on Jesus and each other. They could circle the wagons and be safe in community. As we so often do.
After all, what could they do? They had no ‘special powers’ where was their responsibility to make a difference; where would they begin? As we so often think.
Jesus wants them to be like him.
As the Father sent me, so I am sending you – pass it on.
As the Father loves me, so I love you – pass it on.
As the Father finds joy in me, so I find joy in you – pass it on.
Don’t expect the Law to help you, it will only drag you back.
Take what you know and turn it on it’s head.
Like new wines in new skins – new ideals for a new vision.
Because the Kingdom isn’t in another place – it’s in another frame of mind, another attitude, another change of heart that sees beauty – everywhere.
But you can’t change people – you can only change yourself; and so, the Beatitudes –a new way of seeing that nurtures that change, towards embracing a life that is lived, in joy, for others.
Jesus begins very much at the beginning, we immediately rail at the idea that we may be poor in spirit – we church-goers, we pray-ers – and there’s the first barrier – our seeming control over God, keeping him in his place, in church, answering prayers. Poverty of spirit says that we have to have humility. Our spirit should not strong – it is God in us that has strength. We have to know and accept that we are nothing without Him. Like Step One of any of the Twelve Step recovery programmes - we can only begin by letting go of what has gone before and giving our lives over to be guided by God’s love.
By meekly committing ourselves passionately, compassionately to God’s plan for the world, without the desire to possess or exploit the earth or the people in it, we begin to act as shepherds, as brothers and sisters with Christ in his mission.
To mourn for ourselves is natural. Yet to be able to feel sorrow and empathy for the sadness, injustice, and deprivation of others will bring about the desire for a better world. To mourn the very existence of sin in the world gives us the courage to reject the idea of the status quo – that there is nothing we can do.
In rejecting the status quo, we are encouraged to take the next step – to seek out what is just.
To become aware of the needs of the world and to have the impetus to ‘do something about it’. We can change the world, every day; we take our faith and act on it through who we are and what we do; no matter how big, no matter how seemingly insignificant. We may never know what a difference we have made.
The desire for revenge and retribution is understandable; yet we are reminded in the story of the Woman caught in adultery; ‘who is without sin?
The ability to forgive; even when we may feel it is not deserved, reminds us to follow Jesus’ example. He never sat in judgement – forgiveness and healing was often not even asked for – thanks was not expected - he simply saw what was needed and did it. By forgiving others, more than almost anything else, we know them as our neighbour.
As we forgive, we become open-hearted to the needs of others. When we are able to act directly from the desire to do good, without having a ulterior motive or an agenda of our own, it is God’s love present in the world. We see God in our own actions.
We all wish for peace, to live a peaceful life. The difference comes when it is not a self-centred personal wish for ourselves and our family but when we are filled with the desire to seek reconciliation for and between others.
How can we rest when others suffer?
In living out the teaching of the Beatitudes we will constantly challenge the preconceptions of a world that values ambition, individuality and personal gain. It will not be an easy life to live – what of value is ever easy?
We can expect to have our belief and our way of life mocked and rejected by many. The final Beatitude moves us back to the beginning where our spiritual integrity is tied to our ‘worldly’ weakness and poverty. When we try to defend ourselves we put up the barriers again - so back to Step One where only God is in charge.
The teaching of Jesus is radical; challenging, a sending;
Go and proclaim
Go and show
Go and tell
Go and do
Go and live for each other.