Being Blessed!

Get off the line! The Kingdom of God is Coming!
January 20, 2023
Salty, Light-Filled and Called by God!
February 3, 2023
Get off the line! The Kingdom of God is Coming!
January 20, 2023
Salty, Light-Filled and Called by God!
February 3, 2023

I probably need to let you in on a secret – I struggle with the Beatitudes. I thought I’d let you know just as we sit and listen to Jesus teaching his disciples and we lean in to hear what he has to say. (Matthew 5:1-12) 

I wonder what it means to be blessed, or to use different words, what does it mean to be happy or fortunate?  Every culture has its own definitions and we talk about what it means in this country, misquoting a description of ourselves as ‘the lucky country’.  Depending on your perspective, good news for some is bad news for others.   In a postmodern western country like Australia, happiness might include health, prosperity and the ability to provide for our families.  Perhaps its acquiring and consuming wealth beyond what is needed, owning more than one house or not renting.   Popularity, status and privilege are on the list of desirables.  Men’s magazines focus on virility and masculinity; women’s magazines promote thinness and beauty and business magazines, profit and greed.  In America, happiness includes owning a gun and treasuring individual freedom rather than any idea of ‘common wealth’.  I don’t find this list energizing, inviting or lifegiving. 

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, we were reminded of all the blessings not yet experienced by our First Nations sisters and brothers as we held a Prayer Service of Lament, Mourning and Hope as an alternative to the celebrations of Australia Day.  Consequently, our list of blessings then might look something like this:

Our culture says, ‘happy are the white settlers who have generational privilege of land and wealth, with high paying jobs, because they will be successful’

Jesus says, ‘happy are the destitute and poor among the Aboriginal community for the kingdom of heaven is theirs’

Our culture says, ‘happy are those recent migrants whose loved ones have good health and access to medical care.’

Jesus says, ‘happy are the people who grieve as they will be made glad.’

Our culture says, ‘happy are those who enjoy power and hold onto it’

Jesus says, ‘happy are the people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth’

Our culture says, ‘happy are those who can buy pleasure, who do whatever they want’

Jesus says, ‘happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for justice, because they will be fed until they are full’

Our culture says, happy are those who sit in government with power to sit in judgement, making laws to suit themselves and exclude others, who enslave, control and coerce others to their purposes’

Jesus says, ‘happy are those who show mercy, because they will receive mercy’

Our culture says, ‘happy are those who can remove or ignore opponents, black or white, without consequences, they will see victory’

Jesus says, ‘happy are those who have pure hearts, who have faith and trust God, they will see God’

Our culture says, ‘happy are those who can defeat their opponents over generations, they are winners’

Jesus says, ‘happy are those who make peace, work at it, for it, and never give up, they are God’s children’

Our culture says, ‘happy are those who live without restraints and do whatever they want, they have no constraints’

Jesus says, ‘happy are those whose lives are constantly harassed and oppressed because of their sense of God’s justice and willingness to speak truth to power, for the kingdom God is theirs

Our culture says, ‘happy are those who are popular, the influencers with status, they will be rewarded with recognition and popularity’

Jesus says, ‘happy are you when you are insulted, harassed, bullied and falsely accused because of your kingdom values and faith in God; be full of joy and glad, for you have a great reward in heaven.   

I don’t know what you think about this list and my current comparisons for this moment in time, but Jesus wasn’t giving his list as timeless truths about the way the world works, about human behaviour, because they aren’t true.  Mourners often grieve until they die, remaining uncomforted.  The meek and particularly our Aboriginal sisters and brothers don’t inherit the earth, they go to their early deaths longing for justice.  This is an upside-down world without love or justice which we simply don’t question. 

If we try to overlay Jesus’ words onto our world and thinking, we’ll continue to look at his statements as a way to ‘win God’s favour’ by being ‘good’. The beatitudes are not a recipe to get right so we can be blessed, while comparing ourselves to others apparently less blessed!

The beatitudes offer us strong ethical questions to consider, but they are not a prescription to give us easy entry into the kingdom of heaven.  They describe the characteristics and actions best understood for life in God’s kingdom.    They are beliefs and practices of Christlike people living under God’s rule, which will cause derision and hostility in the world. 

Jesus said to his disciples ‘follow me’, because in him, the living God was doing a new thing, and this list of wonderful blessings is part of his invitation, saying God is at work in a fresh way and this is what it looks like.  Jesus is beginning a new era for God’s people and God’s world.  From now on, the way we think about the world is different.  Our culture’s demands and perspectives have no truth or life in them.  Jesus is offering wonderful news for those living simply, the poor and dispossessed, the mourners and peacemakers.  God is acting in and through Jesus as God turns the world upside down. 

So, when do these promises happen and come true?  There is a great temptation to imagine these promises will come good in heaven, after death.  This misunderstands heaven.  Heaven is God’s space, where full reality exists, close by our ordinary, worldly reality and locked in with it.  One day, heaven and earth will be joined together forever, and the true state of affairs, out of sight most of the time, will be revealed.  When we read, ‘the meek will inherit the earth’, this can hardly happen in a disembodied heaven after death.    

In Matthew’s next chapter, Jesus teaches his disciples the ‘Lord’s prayer’.  We pray ‘your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’.  The life of heaven, where God is already king, is to become the life of the world, transforming the present earth into the place of beauty and delight God always intended, and those who follow Jesus begin to live by this rule here and now.  This is, I think, the point of the sermon on the mount and the beatitudes or blessings, in particular.  They are God’s summons to live in the present in the way which makes sense in God’s promised future, because this future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth.  It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe with great courage, this is the right way up. 

If you try, you will see.     The Lord be with you.

If you try, you will see.

The Lord be with you.

Bibliography

Harrington, D.J., S.J. [Ed.]  Sacra Pagina The Gospel of Matthew. A Michael Glazier Book, Liturgical Press Collegeville, Minnesota.

Jarvis, C.E., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds].  2013.  Feasting on the Gospels Matthew, Vo. 1 Chapters 1-13.

Mackay, D.  2013.  Glimpses of Jesus through the eyes of Matthew.   St Boniface Books, Bunbury, WA.

Wright, T. 2004.  Matthew for Everyone Part 1 Chapters 1-15.  SPCK, London, UK.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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