Matthew first sets the scene for the sermon on the mount by telling the reader that Jesus went up the mountain and sat down. I’ve never really recognized the importance of this detail. I had always assumed that Jesus went up on to the mountain so that people could see him and hear him more clearly, but the mountain is more profound than a grand stage for Jesus here. Jesus went up to the mountain because he could see more of the world this way. Jesus in his sermon and beatitudes was sharing a vision of the new kingdom, the kingdom of God, that he was planning to bring about. Jesus wanted as much of the world as he could reach from that mountain and so much more to know that the kingdom of God was here and that this is what it would look like.
Jesus used beautiful, flowing, poetic words to bestow a blessing on the people. The beatitudes are widely known in the world of Christianity as a powerful blessing. They are among those Hallmark pieces of scripture that are put on plaques, adorn walls, decorate desks, maybe even turned into fridge magnets. The beatitudes can be found quite commonly in the homes, offices and cars of our Christian friends. But what do these words actually mean for us?
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
When Jesus blessed the poor, the mourning, the meek, He was speaking into the reality of oppression that the people were experiencing under Roman rule. Jesus was sharing with the crowd that he understood the kind of poverty, the kind of suffering, the kind of death and the kind of despair they had to live with every day. He was speaking into their experience by promising that under the new kingdom, which was the kingdom of God, there would be the sort of healing they most needed and desperately longed for. Not only is there a promise of blessing and healing in these words from Jesus, there is also a calling embedded here. Jesus establishes the kingdom of God here on earth as it had been promised he would during his time as a flesh and blood human. He shares his vision of what the kingdom of God should look like and he commissions all of us to play a part alongside Him in the building and bring about of this kingdom. Here in the beatitudes Jesus promises the liberation of the oppressed as part of the vision for the new kingdom, but what will we do with these promises? How will we echo the promises not just with the words we speak but with every step we take? The following verses speak into these questions.
6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
These five verses outline some of the ways in which Jesus is calling us to help him build up the kingdom. We are to hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice in the world so much so that we must move and act accordingly. We are to have mercy on all those we encounter whether they deserve it or not for our God is a merciful god who has shown us mercy when we did not deserve it. We must work and live and speak with a pure open heart full of love for our neighbors and God. We must be peacemakers helping to bring about the end of divisions and hatred when there is no end in sight. We must be willing to keep fighting for the righteousness God desires of the world even when it hurts, and you want to give up because no one else seems to get it. We must ignore the ways in which society says we are foolish or crazy or naïve or whatever other negative thing someone could possibly throw at us knowing that we are following God and aiding Him in the building of his kingdom here on earth. These are the ways in which we will respond to the promises of God given to us and these are the ways we will help God continue build up the new kingdom which will someday free us all. God promises to keep us and bless us, and because of this we are grateful and called.
I would like to share with all of you a short YouTube clip from Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. I invite you all to listen closely to those she names as blessed in our world today.
“Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they that doubt, those who aren’t sure, those that can still be surprised. Blessed are those that have nothing to offer. Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction. Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones for whom tears could fill an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are they who don’t have the luxury of taking things for granted anymore. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are those who still aren’t over it yet. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those whom no one else notices, the kids that sit alone at middle school lunch tables, the laundry guys at the hospital, the sex workers and the night shift street sweepers. Blessed are the forgotten. Blessed are the closeted. Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented. Blessed are the wrongly accused, for the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard for Jesus chose to surround himself with people like them. Blessed are those without documentation. Blessed are the ones without lobbyists. Blessed are those who make terrible business decisions for the sake of people. Blessed are the burned-out social workers and the overworked teachers and the pro-bono case takers. Blessed are the kindhearted NFL players and the fundraising trophy wives. And blessed are the kids who step between the bullies and the weak. Blessed is everyone who has ever forgiven me when I didn’t deserve it. Blessed are the merciful for they totally get it. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.”
I chose to share this video because I think Pastor Nadia uses more modern language to transform the beatitudes into something that speaks to us and where we are in our reality today just as Jesus chose language that would speak to the people of Galilea and the reality they were experiencing then. Watching this video added a new meaning to the beatitudes and the ways in which we are to live into this calling today. I invite you to consider where you see yourself among the blessed ones in our world today that she called out.
The beatitudes are certainly not an easy read for one, nor are they anywhere close to easy to preach or teach on. As I said earlier, this is one of those scripture passages that is just so widely known that it utters Christianity, just one of those hallmark texts. Because it is so common and we have heard or read it so many times before, we think we know what its about it. So, we begin to read or hear without actually listening or seeing what is really there in Jesus’ words. We are blinded by the blessing so that that’s all we see, and we miss the invitation that Jesus is extending to us to help him continue to build up the kingdom of God that he brought to earth which looks like peace and love and justice and righteousness among all peoples. Jesus is inviting us to turn the world upside with him and establish a new power which will liberate God’s people from the sort of suffering the powers of earth have created. The beatitudes share with us the vision of this new, radical kingdom under God promising that the kingdom will bring blessing, and it is a calling for us to be a part of the coming of this kingdom and the blessings to follow.