Often, I will think about Scripture, getting some notion in my head of what it says--and unless I have memorized it, sometimes my "gist" is simply wrong. Recently, I've been studying the beatitudes. In the back burner of my brain, I had begun to think of them as Jesus' words to the downtrodden. Of course, this sermon begins, "Blessed are the poor in spirit..." and it probably goes on to hold up the underdog. Right?
This doesn't really sound like a social justice list. In fact, it almost sounds like Jesus is talking to...His followers. You and me. And when he says "bless you," just like a good parent, he is telling us something about how we should be.
"Poor in spirit" means not puffed up, not having it all together. It's comforting to me that I can come to Jesus in my spiritual mess, and he's okay with that.
"Those who mourn." In recent years, I have found myself grieving: sad with the sin in our poor, broken world, sad with the posturing and missteps of the people I identify with (the church). This Christ-following thing is hard, and it sometimes makes me feel out of step with everyone: church culture, American culture, all of it. Grief has elements of denial, anger, sadness, and bargaining. I think I do all of that.
"The meek." Sometimes, because I follow Jesus, who describes himself as Truth, I can get pretty puffed up. Jesus says, "Hey, dear child, you are blessed when you are meek." Sigh. What, again, is meekness?
"Hunger and thirst after righteousness." As someone who loves to study, this blessing has always appealed to me. But as I get older, I am challenged more and more on what it means to love people, what it means to reconcile people to God as an ambassador, what it means to be in the world but not of it. Many things in me have to die in order to be right before God. I do want that, and it is comforting that my Lord says I will be filled.
"The merciful." How many stories does Jesus tell about forgiveness? I have been forgiven much; I know this. May my face always be full of mercy to anyone who sees me in their journey towards God. He shows me mercy; I get to be merciful.
"The pure in heart." This one is hard for me. When I think of the beatitudes as speaking to separate groups, I can imagine the Pure In Heart sitting off to the side, with little harps and white robes. I know I don't qualify. My soul is steeped in sarcasm and intelligent wit, sometimes a little too worldly. But if these words of Christ are a blessing for all of his children, then I am called to purity. Now I'm circling back to poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hunger and thirst...
"The peacemakers." Paul says we are ambassadors for the gospel; we are called to help others make peace with God. Lest we get in our own little cocoon and think all this righteousness is for ourselves, remember: there is a world of hurting people who need to know the love of God. Jesus reminds me I am blessed as a peacemaker--he is sending me out.
"The persecuted." As he sends me out, it's not always going to go very well. Who says to their followers, hey, this thing won't always be successful, but cheer up, you come from a long line of hated people. Even more ironic: I find these words very comforting. And it reminds me to respond to a hostile world with meekness, poverty of spirit, mercy...see the loop?
Jesus looks straight at me in this sermon. He tells me that there is a reward. There is comfort. There is a payoff. There is mercy. I will see him. I will be called his child. I am not alone.
To see the Beatitudes of Jesus, read Matthew 5:1-12.