When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:1-3)
J.B. Philips once suggested that if our world were to have it’s own set of beatitudes, it would look like this:
Happy are the hard-boiled – for they let life hurt them.
Happy are they who complain – for they get their own way in the end.
Happy are the blasé – for they never worry over their sins.
Happy are the slave-drivers – for they get results.
Happy are the knowledgeable ones of the world – for they know their way around.
Happy are the trouble-makers – for they make people take notice of them.
Happy are the pushers – for they get on in the world.
Most of the time, the world has its way and the strong, the powerful, the beautiful, the rich, the smart, and the angry get to be in charge, gain all the accolades, and keep control of the weak, humble, heartbroken, and kind. In Jesus’ day, the Roman empire controlled Judea, and the leaders of the Jewish religion maintained clear lines delineating who was “in” and who was “out”. In case any of us have forgotten: the poor, the mourning, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the kind, the peacemakers, and the persecuted were NOT on the “in” list.
Unfortunately, over the past two millennia, things have not gotten any better. It is still the strongest and richest who gain the power. Anger, hatred and deceit continue to get a person further in this world than kindness, mercy and love. And the church has come up with all sorts of excuses as to why we should leave things the way they are – the problems are too big, the sick didn’t pray hard enough, and the poor and destitute probably brought it on themselves. “The world is against us” is a cry we hear far too often. Guess what – it should be against us, but not for the reasons we think. What Jesus has to say about the state of the world is revolutionary and not something that even God-fearing Christians will often want to hear.
Some probably would think that the beatitudes are proof that Jesus was imbalanced, off his rocker, and perhaps a wee bit crazy. Perhaps – at least as far as the world is concerned. When life goes our way, it is easy to get a bizarre form of amnesia about all those times when we had to reach out for help, ask for assistance, or acknowledge our hurts. We forget how much God has been present and working greater learning from even the most difficult of experiences. We forget that God has always been there. We forget how God has worked through other people around us. However, when we get knocked off our high horse, or perhaps never got so high up to begin with, it is far easier to be open to the blessings that God is just waiting to impart.
Frederich Buechner suggests that “we live our lives like a big clenched fist. The clenched fist can do many things: it can work, hang on to things, impress, even fight. But, the one thing a clenched fist cannot do is accept, even from the Good God himself, a helping hand.” We make our lives about how much we can work for, we strive to be impressive,we make excuses and hold grudges, and we grasp our possessions tightly. We allow fear to keep our fists clenched convincing ourselves that we do not need any help, and neither should anyone else.
Yet we are called to open our hands, both to receive God’s blessing and to bless others – to offer comfort to those who are hurting, to fill the needs of those without resources, to seek after a world where the sources of all forms of poverty (spiritual and physical) are eradicated. We are blessed to be a blessing. May we all unclench our fists of fear and open our hands and hearts to the work that God has for us in our midst.