The Beatitudes or “Sermon on the Mount” as they are often referred to, particularly perhaps because in Matthew’s gospel, it says, "Jesus went up the mountain and after he sat down, his disciples came to him" (Mt 5: 1). This is when he gives this particular sermon on what it means to live into the Kingdom of God.
We know for the most part what we hear in Matthew 5:1-12 as blessing is very different then how the world might consider one to be blessed, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted, blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the persecuted……..
What is so blessed about being poor in spirit? Nothing, it is a place of darkness and despair where one feels alone, or empty, forsaken. What is so blessed about being in mourning? Nothing, it is terrible to lose a love one, to feel the deep dark sorrow of grief and pain we bear in loss. Blessed are those who are meek, why say the meek are blessed? These are the ones who get walked on the most in our world, get pushed around, beaten up even, and forgotten about? What is so great about all that … and we know that there is nothing great about it at all. It is here however, that Jesus is saying that we should find blessing.
Jesus is not of course promoting that one should go out and intentionally seek to be poor in spirit in order to find blessing, or be ever more mournful because that is where one will be comforted, or seek persecution, in order to find righteousness. It is knowing that when we find ourselves in such difficult places in life, when we look for the true nature of blessing there, we will find it because God is there with us.
Yesterday I visited someone who has endured Cancer for many years, it was her birthday, and very likely the last birthday she will have on this earth, and while there is certainly no blessing in Cancer, she shared with me how she have been blessed through it all. Blessed by the care she had been given by the Cancer care team, by the love and support she has known through her family, friends and neighbours, and in that she found much blessing, love and thankfulness, and much reason to celebrate and feel joy on her birthday.
That too is what Jesus was teaching in the beatitudes, for it is only looking to the ultimate blessing of knowing God both in the present and future time, that we can endure the troubles that this world will bring. Jesus in this gospel, had been instructing his disciples, on the kingdom of God, but a kingdom that was within each of them, as it is within each of us, and it is to be found, when we put our focus on, not seeking after what the world promises, but seeking after what God promises.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. No, blessing doesn’t always come in the way most might perceive it to be in the world, in the wealth and good fortune that many enjoy. More so it is in the immaterial, the love that is given and felt, when one gives to bring life to another, as the peacemakers of our world, who put their own lives at risk to give another a chance at a more peaceful life; or the pure in heart, those who give out of the goodness of their hearts, self-less acts of love and giving for the sake of the other. All deserving of reward but not often thought about, it is these Jesus says, who will see God.
In that there is real promise, promise of eternal glory in the Father’s kingdom, and that is the promise Jesus gives all who work for His kingdom glory, instead of for earthly glory. Jesus was no doubt concerned about the dangers of temptation for those who would follow him. Temptations that take one away from faithful living, in pursuit of one’s own self-interests, or self-glorification, or gratifications for that matter. There was as much danger of that for the disciples then, as it is for us now.
Previous to this gospel Jesus had been healing all kinds of sickness and disease and great crowds it says were following him, bringing their sick to him, and no doubt taken up with the miraculous. Jesus was handy to have around. Perhaps they were seeing him as the new Moses, and looking for more of the same when God brought the plagues on the Egytians to free the Isrealites. Jesus could serve them well in overthrowing the romans with this kind of power. For the disciples it must have been a very powerful feeling to have been called as his right hand men, so to speak. But what Jesus was doing, wasn’t about power and fame, it was about humbling oneself before the almighty God. And allowing God to have the prominent place in one’s life.
To bad some of our worlds’ leaders today don’t recognize humility as one of the greatest virtues they could ever strive after, just imagine what a magnificent world we would have if that were the case. If all were to humble themselves before our almighty God. The world’s hungry would be fed, the poor would have plenty, the lost would be found, there would be no more refugee fleeing from danger, there would be no homeless, or poverty, or oppression and less sickness and discease, because all would be fed, all would be taken care of, all would be treated, equally, fairly, and justly. That is a world worth hoping and striving for, and praying about.
And that is just it, because it is what Jesus is calling us all to strive for through the beatitudes, God’s kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
The beatitudes points us to God’s kingdom ways, and while the world looks on these rules or instructions as impossible to live by, and most take them more at sentimental value then anything else, they are however, instructions indeed for how God intends us all to live.
The old testament prophet Micah (6:1-8) speaking to the people of Isreal after they had forgotten about what God had done for them, going their own way, living for themselves rather then looking out for one another, caring for the poor among them, when they were reminded of this, they offered to make retribution for their sins through greater sacrifice, even to offering to sacrifice their first born to the Lord. The prophet says to them, “ He has told you O Mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindess, and to walk humbly with your God.
God was not looking for more ritual acts of sacrifice, more acts of piety that they might prove their worthiness, but asking for changed lives. People who honored God with their lives, not through practiced ritual but doing good in the world, keeping the peace, sharing what they had so there would be a more just and better society for all.
The beatitudes speak to who God is and what God is about, and in them we too should seek to find ourselves, as those who are striving to do good in the world, striving to make this a better place through our own acts of mercy, love and compassion. Walking with the suffering of our world, the lonely, the sick, the displaced, the persecuted, not standing outside of it but stepping into all the brokenness of our world, for it is there too we will find our God.
Sometimes it feels like there is little hope for the world as it is, but it is trusting that our God is greater then all that is happening, that we too will find blessing in the integrity of knowing that we walk in faithfulness with our God.
And so as the prayer written by William Sloan Coffin says: "May God give you the grace never to sell yourself short; grace to risk something big for something good; and grace to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love."
Amen, God Bless.