Last week we described Jesus as the Word of God. We looked at many ways that defined what that means. And we barely scratched the surface. A lot of ink has been spilt on the Incarnation of Christ, and if you were here last week, I’d bet that the one thing you probably remember is “God’s taco.”
If Jesus is God’s Word as John proclaimed, then that tells me his words matter. But they are more than just wise sayings, or interesting observations that look good in memes. They are social commentary, ethical pronouncements, and radically political declarations.
Jesus does not mince words. When he speaks, he is teaching. And what he teaches is imperative for our spiritual growth and understanding of the kingdom of heaven, which Jesus said “has come near.”
Today I want to turn to the Gospel of Matthew and focus on one of Jesus’ first and longest lessons which begins with a series of blessings, commonly known as the Beatitudes. The problem we face today is this passage is so familiar, that it can be difficult for us to see ourselves in them. Or hear God’s intent and purpose that Jesus is conveying. I would invite you now to close your eyes and picture yourself sitting on the hillside listening to Jesus speak these words to you.
READ: Matthew 5:1-12
You might remember in Monty Python’s Life Of Brian there’s a scene where they borrow from this famous passage. A man standing in the crowd proclaiming, “Blessed are the Greeks,” and “Blessed are the cheese makers.”
The writers might have been joking when they wrote the lines, little did they know that they’re telling us something about the character of God and the power of God’s Word made flesh. A most unexpected messiah giving blessings to those who never expected one in the first place.
Now if you have never heard the Beatitudes, there’s also a good chance you’re saying to yourself, “Wow. These are the most beautiful words I have ever heard.” Or “Gee, these words are beautiful but not very realistic given the world we live in.”
For those who have heard them, perhaps you’re thinking, “These beautiful words are just another reminder of all the ways I fail to live up to being a follower of Christ.” Or worse…you might be thinking you’re not worthy of such a blessing.
Here’s the thing, Jesus blesses us because it’s in his nature to do so. Jesus isn’t setting us up to fail or wanting us to feel ashamed. He’s giving us a way to live right with God. He’s calling us to participate in the kingdom of heaven knowing exactly what that will entail. Fear, doubt, pressure, mistakes. Jesus knows us, and what we are capable of doing. For better or worse he chooses to bless us with God’s love even if it costs him his life.
In her book “Accidental Saints,” Nadia Bolz-Webber imagines Jesus looking at the crowd on the mountain and “extravagantly throwing around blessing as if grew on trees.”
She writes, “Maybe the Sermon on the Mount is all about Jesus blessing all the accidental saints...especially those the world didn’t seem to have much time for: people in pain, people who work for peace instead of profit, people who exercise mercy instead of vengeance.”
Maybe you know these people – the ones the world doesn’t always admire. Again, maybe that’s what you think about yourself. Like you don’t deserve to be blessed – believing you’re not good enough, or poor enough, or meek enough to receive God’s love and grace.
But here we have God’s Word saying you are good. You are worthy. You are enough. You might not wake up in the morning hoping to be poor or persecuted, but Jesus wants to give you God’s blessing, nonetheless. I invite you to open your heart and let them in.
Of course, this speaks more to who Jesus is than who we are. He is the Word of God made flesh. He is God in our midst, turning the ways of the world on its head every time he blesses those who have been ignored, abused, or marginalized.
No wonder when God’s Word speaks the world covers its ears, closes its eyes, and turns its back. The world doesn’t want to be blessed with peace when it can make a profit off war. It doesn’t want to mourn, be meek, or give mercy. It wants power.
It’s easy to blame all the bad stuff in the world on those who disregard or deny the Word of God. Richard Rohr invites us to take an honest look at ourselves too. He writes, “Let’s be honest, most of Christianity has focused very little on what Jesus himself taught and spent most of his time doing – healing people, doing acts of justice and inclusion, embodying compassionate and nonviolent ways of living.”
As a Franciscan, Rohr naturally points us towards St. Francis of Assisi who took the Sermon on the Mount seriously and spent his life trying to imitate Jesus. Francis believed Jesus meant when he said the kingdom of heaven has come near. He went on to live into that truth; creating a community of saints who live into their blessedness by blessing others.
I like to imagine what our world today would look like if we proclaimed God’s Word like Francis did. Blessing everyone like Jesus did. It makes me wonder how can we worship God if we don’t trust God’s Word enough to live it out in the world? At the end of the sermon on the mount, Jesus gives us this short but effective image so we will know that we are to act on his words.
He said, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise person who built a house on rock.” (cf. Matthew 7:24–27)
God’s blessings didn’t stop with Jesus. They didn’t die on the cross. They too have been resurrected. And been passed on to us, given to us in our faith, to live through our faithfulness.
In Christ, God has blessed you and me so that the world might know God’s Word and receive God’s blessings as their own. It’s up to us to give them away “as if they grew on trees!”
The beatitudes are more than just beautiful words to needlepoint. They are an invitation to participate in God’s kingdom. This is our calling. Our mission and ministry. This is our purpose – to be a blessing in and for the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is the Word of God. And his words have purpose - to redeem and restore all of creation back to God. He is calling us now to walk in this kingdom, in his footsteps, blessing everyone we pass along the way. For the blessings we receive from God are the very blessings we are to be for God.
Through Christ, God has provided us with everything we need to bless the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the dying.
In Christ, God has given us a living example of how to honor the poor in a way that empowers them; to show mercy and forgiveness to those who have hurt us, even if we get nothing in return.
With Christ, you might discover people will put you down, throw you out or speak lies about you. But instead of getting angry or seeking revenge, Jesus says “Be glad. You’re in good company. God’s prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble” (Mt. 5:12 MSG)
If you want to get things right in the world, especially in your own life, perhaps it’s time to let God’s Word direct the way you live by receiving and being a blessing to others. Jesus shows us the way to be in the world without being of it. He is God’s Beatitude made flesh.
When we model our lives on his, peace will prevail; all will be comforted and everyone will have their fill; mercy will be shown to us; and the kingdom of God will reign, now and forever.
May the Lord bless you and keep you. May his light shine upon you and be gracious to you. May his face smile at you and give you peace.
Bartlett, David. L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011).
Bolz-Weber, Nadia. Accidental Saints: Finding God In All The Wrong People. (New York: Convergent, 2015).
Pagano, Joseph S. The Beatitudes and Barriers, All Saints Day. Nov. 01, 2017 (accessed on July 23, 2021).
Rohr, Richard. Scripture as Liberation, (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2002).
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has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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