Epiphany 4A | Matthew 5:1-12
[Note: the original sermon was preached from sparse notes. What follows is a fleshing out of those notes as best as I can.]
GOD of Hope and Wonder, you gave us Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Open our hearts to love as he loves, our imaginations to dream as he dreams, and our eyes to see the world as he sees it. Amen.
The first five words of the gospel give us an interesting way to see this very familiar gospel of the Beatitudes:
“When Jesus saw the crowds.”
We don’t know what he sees, or what he makes of it, but this symbol is very powerful; Jesus saw them.
Who we are not talking about
Jesus gives us a pretty good description throughout each of the gospels of the people to whom we are to minister. In many places, it is the outsider, such as…
- People from another tribe—like the Samaritans,
- Traitors to the tribe—tax collectors were seen as traitors because they were Jews that taxed other Jews on behalf of Rome, and of course,
- The ritually impure within the tribe—prostitutes and other “sinners” whose very livelihood kept them from being considered one of the “normal” people.
In other places we get a glimpse of those that fall through the cracks: the destitute and the desperate—the poor, the sick, the disabled.
Through all of these stories of Jesus talking to, eating with, advocating for these groups, we start to harmonize them and see any of Jesus’s teachings about others as being about this faceless group of outsiders, condemned by Jewish society. We make the relevant translation to our own world and see the homeless we’ve met or the people we’ve helped in the words of the gospel. But today, let’s not do that. These might be the people Jesus really is talking about in this gospel, but for today, let’s not think about them. Let’s say that this has nothing to do with others. In fact, this has to do with us.
9 that are blessed
The way the Beatitudes are set up is as nine blessings. The first is telling: “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. We often jump to the other with this one. We think of the depressed, or the doubter, or the one unhappy in church. If we were Evangelicals, we call these “the unchurched.” Instead, let’s see this as people thatlook out the window and see the trouble in the world. People that are hurt by the pain they see through that window, and are made sad by destruction and evil.
The next is “Blessed are those who mourn”. This isn’t simply widows, but all of those who grieve what they or others have lost: all people that know loss and are pained by what is gone.
“Blessed are the meek” isn’t just talking about the weak or the timid, but all those who refuse to watch one more person get hurt or abused—and we also refuse to be the one who does it.
These first three are more or less passive, or receptive. What is seen affects their outlook and begins to affect their action. The next three are increasingly active.
The fourth, and I love the way this is described, is “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”. Think about those descriptors: how do we feel hunger, but as the very seizing of our stomachs—a pain that rises from our bellies. Thirst is similar: our throats get itchy and irritated, our tongues and mouths get dry and scratchy; our entire neck and heads scream out for relief. For those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, it is the very body that feels and reflects the pain of injustice—compelling us to relieve that pain.
The fifth, “Blessed are the merciful” are those who reject vengeance and hatred, because there is already too much of that, and instead respond to everything with compassion and love.
The sixth, “Blessed are the pure in heart” are those who do not respond out of intellect or tradition, but out of GOD’s righteousness.
Each of these “blesseds” builds up to the seventh; the crux of the whole thing, and the most active: “blessed are the peacemakers”.
And the last two are what happens in response to how we act, seemingly bringing us back to the receptive beginning:
8. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake
9. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Christ is the Beatitudes
This entire conversation isn’t a list of tasks for Christians. It isn’t simply an ethic.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
“Action in accord with Christ does not originate in some ethical principle, but in the very person of Jesus Christ.” (Ethics 2005, 231)
Jesus is the center of the Beatitudes.
Notice that the gospel’s description is not simply what would be if we did this, but the future that will be when we are this.
Remember? “Blessed are the meek”—not “you will be blessed when you choose to be meek”.
The Two Most Important Words
This gospel uses two really important words that we should look at.
- Blessed: We take the word blessed to mean blessings in life—some of you (not me) have been blessed with good looks or wealth or talents. In other words, the stuff we get from GOD. A more ancient and appropriate understanding would be sanctified or consecrated or holy. ‘Holy are the meek’.
- Peace: The 21st Century American English word is so inadequate to describe Jesus’s intentions for us. All we know about peace is the absence of war or conflict. Jesus meant, and would have used the Hebrew word Shalom. Shalom doesn’t simply mean the absence of war or conflict, but
justice & truth…
The well-being of others.
This is why the seventh Beatitude is so important to the whole gospel: “Holy are the Shalom-makers, for they will be called children of God.” We know that it is our job to bring wholeness and completeness to the world. That we are the ones that transform this gospel about other people into a gospel about us in this world. That these Beatitudes are, in fact, about us.
The Jesus at the center of this gospel, longs for us to make this world complete in the hear and now. He has given us a vision of the Kingdom and about who we are to be. We are invited to be reconciled and to reconcile, to love and to be loved. To share in the sanctified as poor in spirit, mourners, the meek, righteousness seers, mercy bestowers, lovers, and shalommakers.
May we be receptive to the world, moved and inspired by righteousness and love, that we seek mercy instead of vengeance, hope in the face of despair, and justice when we feel pain; and may the world be so transformed that we see one another as blessed. Amen.
This sermon was originally posted on my old Sermon Page.