Matthew 5:1-12 / 4 Epiphany A / 30 January 2011 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
“Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to Him. And He opened His mouth and taught them.” (Mt 5:1-2)
Jesus’ teaching begins with a word. Blessed. In Greek, makarios. Not quite “happy.” It’s not a feeling. Blessed. It’s a condition, an umbrella under which you live out your existence. Blessed. Nine times it gets repeated, and each time turned a little bit like a diamond, displaying each of its facets.
We call them “beatitudes,” blessings. The first four are inward. They point to the disciple and his condition coram Deo, before God. The poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. In a single phrase, blessed are the beggars.
“We are all beggars, this is true.” Luther had written those words in preparation for his death. In those days, it was common to spend a great deal of effort planning one’s burial and carefully choosing one’s last words. We don’t know if Luther actually said these words. They were written on a piece of paper on a night stand next to his bed. We are all beggars, this is true. Poor in spirit. Mourning. Meek. Hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
This is not what you might expect, and certainly not the impression you would get by tuning in to popular Christianity and the prosperity preachers you see on TV or read in books. Their message is quite the opposite. Blessed are the rich in spirit. Blessed are the glad and happy. Blessed are the strong and powerful. Blessed are those whose cups runneth over with righteousness. Of course! Isn’t that the way of all religion? Using God to become a winner. God technology. Plugging into the power. Getting your life in order, maximizing your potential, actualizing your self-esteem, being all that you can be in all the fabulous ways you can be it, all with the “help of God” of course.
That’s what we expect. Keep the rules and God will reward you. Health, wealth, happiness, love. It’s all yours in faith. Just believe hard enough, name it, claim it. Hey, it worked for the guy on TV didn’t it? He’s the picture of success. Nice suit, nice car, pretty wife, squeaky clean, drug free, honor roll kids. God’s on the side of the winners. He always helps the winning football team. “I’d like to thank God for helping me make that game-winning touchdown or kick that last-second field goal.” God is always on the side of the winners. You never hear anyone say, “I’d like to thank God for that loss today. We’re truly blessed.” “I’d like to thank the Lord for that fumble in the red zone when we could have won the game.” “I just want to praise the Lord for the blocked field goal with time running out.”
Blessed are the poor in spirit. That’s right. Not the poor, as in financially lacking. That’s Luke. Poor in spirit. The spiritually impoverished, the spiritually bankrupt. Beggars. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer God but their sin, the messed up lives, their broken hearts, their dysfunctional families. Blessed are those who look at the inventory of the commandments and come to the conclusion, “I’m bringing nothing.” Blessed are those who have come to the conclusion they can’t do religion. Blessed are those who realize they haven’t kept a single commandment in thought, word, or deed not matter how good they might look to the world. Blessed are those who, like the tax collector in the temple, can’t even lift their eyes to heaven but beat their breasts and say “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Blessed are the beggars.
Blessed are those who mourn. Did Jesus just say mourn? To mourn suggests something something died. Blessed are those who experience the pangs of death? That’s right. Those who mourn. Those who grieve. Those who weep over the ravages of Sin in their lives and the lives of others. Those who experience loss for the sake of the kingdom. Those who have “bought the farm” to own the pearl of great price. You think being a Christian means being happy? Rethink.
Those who mourn are open, giveable, receivable. They are like soil plowed under and turned over, the good soil in which the seed of the Word actually produces a harvest of fruit. The kingdom is not about winning in this world but losing. Losing your life in order to save it. Losing your self in order to be find in Jesus.
Blessed are the meek. Yes, the meek. Not the strong and mighty, but the meek and lowly. The losers, the little ones, the door mats of the world. Blessed are you. The earth is yours. Everyone seeks to grab it by power; you get it by gift. Everyone asserts their right to it; it is granted you to receive. The meek. It’s so counterintuitive. It cuts against the grain of our thinking, the way we run our lives. We want to be strong, to be in charge, to be in control. The meek? What war have the meek ever won? Do the spoils ever go to the meek?
Jesus calls Himself meek. “Come to me, all you who are weak and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus is meek, and in His meekness likes hidden strength. It’s the strength that turns the other cheek to the striker, that loves the enemy, the blesses the persecutor, that lays down His life for the sinner. And here we get a hint: These Beatitudes, the “blesseds” are first and foremost about Jesus. He is them, and He does them. For us, for you.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Not simply hunger and thirst. That’s Luke. And that can be taken care of by a square meal and something to drink. You can supply that. But you can’t supply righteousness. You can’t make yourself holy. Oh, you can do righteous things, works of righteousness, but you can’t conjure up righteousness. We are beggars all, said Luther. Hungering, thirsting for a righteousness not our own. Jesus, who knew no Sin, became Sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. What we hunger and thirst for, what humanity seeks in its religions and philosophies, is found in Jesus. In Him you are satisfied.
The next four beatitudes turn the disciple to the neighbor. Life before one another. Blessed are the merciful, the pure-hearted, the peacemakers, the persecuted. They reflect the merciful, pure-hearted, persecuted Prince of Peace who is their Savior and Lord.
Blessed are the merciful, the undeservedly kind, those who love the loveless, who lay down their lives for others. The mercy they show is also the mercy they receive, not as a reward, but in the way of the Lord’s Prayer and forgiveness when we pray “forgive us in the same way we forgive those who sin against us.” You who have received mercy and are aware of the mercies of God are conduits of mercy, showing the mercy of God to others. You are as the moon is to the sun, reflecting the sun’s light into the darkness, shining with a light not your own, that men may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Blessed are the pure in heart, those who are innocent of the evils of this world. “Ignorance is bliss,” we say. In this sense it’s true. To be ignorant of evil is to be blessed, and yet how can anyone walk in this world and be ignorant of evil? Proverbs says, “Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”? Can you? Yes, you can. But not in yourself. Our hearts are anything but pure. They are the place where Sin resides and originates – murder, hatred, envy, lust, pride, prejudice, lies. It all goes on in our anything but pure hearts.
They must be purified by the One who alone is pure in heart. They must be washed, baptized, and when Jesus washes the heart, it becomes pure. You are pure in heart for you are baptized into the pure-hearted One who makes His heart your heart.
Blessed are the peacemakers, literally the peace doers. Those who do peace, who bring “shalom” to others. They shall be called “sons of God” for they are reflections of the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the One who brought peace by His wounds. We are not by nature peace doers. You don’t have to read far in the Bible to encounter the first murder when Cain killed his brother Abel.
Peace doing and persecution go together. Step in the breach between two warring parties and they will both turn on you. The Prince of Peace is rejected, despised, persecuted, crucified. That’s how much this world wants peace. It is willing to kill the Prince of Peace to keep it from happening.
Blessed are you. You. You the disciple. You the baptized believer, child of the kingdom. Blessed are you when others revile you, persecute you, slander you because you bear the name Christian. Blessed are those Christians in Egypt whose worship services are interrupted with bombs and gunfire at the hands of Muslims. Blessed are those Christians in communist lands who are driven deep underground. Blessed are those who are mocked and ridiculed by the “wise” of this world. Blessed are you when people laugh at you for believing in Christ, when people exclude you for being a Christian, when people mock you for speaking the name of Jesus. Don’t be sad, be glad! Rejoice! You are walking in prophetic sandals.
The beatitudes are first and foremost about Jesus. He is the Blessed One from whom all blessings flow. He is the One who became poor in spirit, though He was rich. He is the One who mourned over our Sin, the man of suffering, acquainted with sorrow. He is the meek One, who turned the other cheek, who gave His back to the whips of this world, who went as a Lamb to the slaughter. He hungered and thirsted for our righteousness, and in His hunger and thirst we are filled.
He is the Merciful One, whose mercy knows no bounds. He is the pure-hearted One, innocent of Adam’s sin, whose heart overflowed with nothing but love. He is the peace maker, the One who did our peace to death on a cross that we might have shalom, peace that surpasses our comprehension, peace that that world cannot give. He is the persecuted One, who absorbed this world’s hatred and buried it in His death.
Jesus is and does all these things. He is the Blessed One. And you, baptized into Him, are blessed.
In the name of Jesus,