Now when [Jesus] saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him,
and he began to teach them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Now, as we stand—well, here in the UK we do—some are already there—on the threshold of the second decade of a new century, can we hear what Jesus is saying?
I find it actually quite hard, living here in England in winter, with the Christmas lights still glowing warmly through the dark evening from ordinary houses along the village streets, to hear Jesus’ voice clearly myself. His words here are as contrary to the spirit of our culture as they were to the spirit of Roman-occupied Galilee. Jesus’ blessings are for those whom a society like ours, or like the Romans’ or the Temple leaders’, consider least blessed, and least deserving of blessings.
Even within the context of each of our own lives, Jesus is calling blessed those times when we have felt, or seemed, least fortunate. The times when we have been poor in spirit, emptied out, feeling we have nothing to give; the times when we have not been able to stand up for ourselves; the times when we have not had the heart any longer for the main chance, the business advantage; when we have felt least dynamic, least thrusting, least competitive. These, says Jesus, are the truly blessed times, the times when we have drawn closest to our Saviour.
So often we have felt out of step with all that our society holds up as worthy of reward. Our hearts have been broken for the homeless, the defenceless, the hungry, when society demands our allegiance to the bottom line; we have longed for justice when society requires profitability. Yes, Jesus says, your unease is my unease—your feelings of being out of step with the world are true, prophetic perceptions, not suspicious signs of weakness.
If we act like this, speak like this, we will come in for some of the persecution Jesus himself suffered. Don’t worry, though, says Jesus—this too is one of my peculiar blessings. This too is the gate into the Kingdom of God, the true, the enduring Kingdom. This is the way home…