The imagery woven into these verses is inescapable.
At least it was or would have been to those for whom these words were first written.
For you and me, maybe not so much because of time and distance and only a passing familiarity with the broad sweep of the larger narrative. But if it were then and not now, here is what we would have immediately recognized in the scene created here by the author of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus, in the tradition of Moses, the great Patriarch of the Jewish people, ascends the mountain. But instead of receiving instruction from God as Moses did with the 10 Commandments, Jesus sits down and begins to teach. In that one act of sitting down to teach Jesus is portrayed as greater than Moses. And with statements like…
- You are the light of the world.
- Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
- When you pray say, “Our Father…” (the Aramaic word here is Papa)
- Do not judge and you will not be judged.
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Jesus steps beyond the teachings of the Torah with his own instruction.
But, he begins it all with these three words…
“Blessed are you…”
And, in doing so turns both their understanding of blessing and ours upside down and inside out. Here is what I mean.
How do you most often use the word blessing?
Or hear the word blessing used?
Don’t we use it or hear it used most often related to what we call the blessings of life? Those things for which we are to be thankful, but sometimes (maybe even too often) take for granted?
All are important and all are those things for which we should be grateful for each and every day. I want to make sure you heard me say that because I also want to say this. I both worry and wonder about a subtle and unspoken and yet very real flip side of that understanding of blessing.
Does it mean that if you don’t have enough food;
Or, if the relationships in your life are in shambles;
Or, if there is no home to which you can go;
Or, if you feel more broken than whole;
Or, more forgotten than included;
That you are not blessed?
That you are, at best, forgotten by God?
And forgotten by others?
At worst, cursed by God?
And looked down up by others?
Knowing how powerful words are and how much language matters and makes a difference, I wonder if that is how it feels to those others when we think about or talk about blessing in the way we do. And, I wonder, too, how much our language reflects what we really believe.
So now back to Jesus as he sits on that hillside with disciples and crowd gathered around him.
A crowd made up of those who are more often hungry than full;
More often forgotten than remembered;
And Jesus begins his great instruction by saying this:
Blessed are you…
I read those words and sit back and wonder if that was maybe the first time any of them had heard someone say to them, let alone someone of importance or stature of Jesus, “You are blessed…”
Poor as you are, you are blessed.
Longing for something more, you are blessed.
Worrying about where your next meal will come from or if your children will have to go to bed hungry, you are blessed.
As is so often the case when we add God to the mix…
Assumptions about how life is or should be get turned inside out and upside down.
And we are left to decide what is true and what is not.
Here is what I have found myself thinking about as I pondered these words of Jesus.
If what Jesus says is true, God’s blessing is less about what we have or don’t have and more about what we do and how we treat each other. Scholars tell us that, at least in terms of the Biblical witness, blessing has something to do with being in a right relationship with that which we know and name as God. And, the word blessing means to hold in reverence and is related to the Hebrew word to kneel. That being the case the words of Jesus/blessed are you might sound something like this:
- Those of you who are poor or poor in spirit, who know your dependence upon God, are held in reverence…
- Those of you who suffer or care deeply about those who do are held in reverence…
- Those of you who are gentle in your caring for others are held in reverence…
- Those of you who compassionately care for those in need are held in reverence…
- Those of you who yearn for God’s Kingdom come are held in reverence…
- Those of you who do your best to serve God are held in reverence…
- Those of you work for peace, whose efforts often seem futile, but which are never unsuccessful are held in reverence…
Held in reverence not by you and me or not just by you and me, but held in reverence by that source of Life and Love and Hope and Peace that is closer to us than the next breath we take and more than we can ever name or know.
Here is what it looks like.
At least to me.
God kneeling before those who are searching and hoping and praying and longing for something more and who do all they can to help God’s Kingdom come.
Blessed are you.