We see glimpses of that in the first 3 passages read, and then in Matthew 5, we see Jesus himself explain this for us. Leading up to this point in Matthew, Jesus has been baptized by John, declared “beloved Son” from the heavens, walked through the wilderness and been attended by angels. He has begun to call for repentance, collected his disciples, and has been doing miraculous things, healing many people. Needless to say, Jesus has drawn some attention at this point!
It seems that while there are crowds of people around, Jesus moves up onto a mountain (which around here we’d likely call a big hill) and his disciples gather around. From what I have learned about the area where they are, being on this “mountain”, means that Jesus and his disciples would have a great view of this and surrounding areas. Matthew places this story early in Jesus’s ministry and we can imagine that those listening are eager to hear what he says.
This word that Jesus starts with- “Blessed”. What does it mean? Happy, fortunate? Made holy, consecrated?
When I think about what makes me feel blessed, it’s being truly seen and loved, being surprised in a way that I didn’t expect but realize that I really desired, being known for all of who I am- the outward and the inward, the delightful and the difficult, the comforting and the challenging- experiencing a knowing which makes me feel understood on a deep level.
So, let’s look at these folks who Jesus calls blessed and to whom he wants to bring the disciples’ attention:
The Poor in Spirit.
These are people who know that they are empty and have experienced that the world can not and does not fill them up. They know their place as broken humans, hurt by other broken humans, but in seeking God they discover that they are also a part of a beautiful family made by a loving Creator.
What can help them get there? Perhaps, other broken, beautiful humans acting as reminders of their belovedness through their care and compassion, giving them a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven that is theirs.
Those Who Mourn.
These are people who allow themselves to feel, to be vulnerable and affected by what is happening around them and to them. Mourning is an act that takes time and space, they are in it. When they are open to this mourning, they also open themselves up to being seen, to being healed and comforted.
Jesus doesn’t say who will do this comforting, and I have to think that’s on purpose. It leaves it open for all of us to be comforters, to sit with those who mourn, to preserve the space that they need and allow them ALL the time it takes, both in the immediate and the long-term mourning.
Meek people don’t over-value, and sometimes don’t even know, their own power. Those who are meek are not going to fill a need simply because “someone has to do it”, they allow space for others to come through and do what they are gifted to do. They are NOT powerless. But, they understand that any privilege or power they have is not because of what they have done, but rather a gift, and that they are not more deserving than anyone else.
Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness.
This word “Righteousness” can be tricky. It seems pretty clear, even with the limited amount that we have learned from Matthew up to this point in Jesus’ life, and given this context, that Jesus is not talking about individual righteousness, self-righteousness or piety. In looking at this word in the original Greek- dikaiosynē (de-kay-ah-soon-Aye) and in its context here and later in this chapter Dr Nicholas Woterstorff argues that the word that should be used here is justice, not righteousness. In this context, justice which is pursued on a corporate/community level, makes much more sense than personal uprightness. The pursuit of righteousness leads us to focus on ourselves and our own right- or upright-ness. And I can’t imagine that this is what Jesus is talking about Hungering and Thirsting for.
Those who hunger and thirst for justice are not satisfied with the world as it is now. They see justice as an essential need for all, not something to take for ourselves and hope for for others. When you hunger and thirst, you DO something about it. Those who act out of this great, deep need for justice know that their work is ESSENTIAL and will be filled by it.
Those who do not judge, but give mercy. The merciful consider, they acknowledge humanity and they don’t condemn. When people are seen as generous with mercy, when it flows out of them, it will come back to them, from God, from themselves and also from others.
The Pure in Heart.
These people are not seeking gain, they are content in their position as beautiful, created children of God and value others in the same way. In this, they see and know their Creator.
Notice that Jesus says, peaceMAKERS, not peacekeepers. These folks are actively involved in making and creating peace- they work for it. They are not avoiding conflict or putting up a good front so that it looks like everything is fine. They are creating peace where it wasn’t before. They see their role in this human family, in God’s family, honoring their Creator and working together with their siblings and those of older and younger generations.
Those who are Persecuted for Righteousness Sake.
Here, again, there is a strong argument for using the word Justice instead of Righteousness. Do we know of people who are persecuted for being personally upright? Perhaps not, but there are countless people who are persecuted for doing what is right, for standing in a different place than everyone else, for asking the questions that no one wants to hear, for going against the trend. These folks are walking with God, hearing from God and are willing to take a stand for Justice, and they are those whom God includes in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are YOU.
I’m going to pause here, as I want to notice that Jesus is getting specific and personal here, drawing in his disciples and focusing on them specifically.
Blessed are you, when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Ugh. My guess is this is not the kind of “Blessing” they were hoping for.
But what is Jesus telling them? He is letting them know that he is with them and that they can trust him. They are not free from hardship, difficulty or persecution, and they will receive consequences that they likely don’t deserve, but they are now part of something different.
Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets before you.
Once again, we are seeing that in Jesus’ work things are different. His disciples are not to seek protection from scrutiny, or to try to coast along. They are to listen, and be led and let themselves be compelled by what they are learning. They are to act on these things, to challenge the status quo and not be afraid to stand up for things/people/justice in ways that others don’t understand.
It seems to me that Jesus is calling them to be prophets. What does that mean? To take time and space to see what is happening around them? To see and raise up that which the world looks down upon? I think for a while, this could be seen by many as a good thing, but I wonder- if they are truly prophets- would it also mean doing often the thing that others would look at as “just too far, too different, or too much”?
We know that prophets are generally not welcomed by their community, they are known for saying the things that nobody really wants to hear…BUT, what about when we all live into this call and do it together? What if we lean into the “prophet-ness” of walking with and learning from this Jesus we follow?
What if we resist pushing away that voice that says, “pay attention, pause here, notice this?” What if we reprioritize and make space in our agendas to be led, to be open, to be moved? What if, after seeing a need in our community we bravely bring forward that idea that we are sure no one will go for?
If we are all tuning in and staying close to God, it seems pretty likely that we’re going to be hearing, seeing and noticing similar things and that we’re not going to be shocked when we hear someone else voice them too.
All the folks that Jesus says are “Blessed”, that he says are “to be envied” have experienced and/or are acknowledging the limits of their human-ness and thus opening themselves up to the blessings of God. As we move through our days, let us consider how God might be asking us to look at things in a different way, to see something through a different lens, to move away from “us” and “them”. And in ALL that we do, let us consider, who is missing? Whose perspective don’t we have and how do we make sure they know they are welcome here?
This isn’t about doing more, serving more, or reaching more, but about being present and invested, with God and each other, and allowing ourselves to be known/seen/affected by what’s happening around us and being compelled to speak up and do what we are called to do. When we stay close to and walk with God together, we know the blessing is in seeing through the eyes of God and one another, truly knowing each other, building a community together, holding space for each other, and seeking to respect and understand that which we don’t experience ourselves.
I hunger and thirst for that, do you?
Merriam Webster Dictionary
Working Preacher Podcasts
Video: Righteousness or Justice, Nicholas Woterstorff- https://youtu.be/jdcIkbAMWKA
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