The Gospel reading this week is Matthew 5:1-12, the Beatitudes. It is such a familiar text that we can often take it for granted or as is too often the case, ignore it as some sort of ideal that is not really for us in the here and now. I have often made the point that Jesus’ message is for the here, as “thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” and the now, as in those He calls, He calls, He calls to an immediate discipleship. What, in light of this, are we to take away from this all too familiar text?
One thing that is notable, is that this text is placed after the announcement of Jesus’ public ministry. Just prior in Matthew 4:7 Jesus announces that we are to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” He has also begun to gather His disciples by calling Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew, as well as James and John the sons of Zebedee. So, the two things that strike us about Jesus and His proclamation are present before the beatitudes; His ministry is open and public and for us here on Earth, and He is calling us right now.
That then should leave us with the question of “what does this mean for us?” This is a question that Martin Luther asked constantly. This is the question that Jesus answers in chapter 5, with the Beatitudes, or as a priest suggested to me a long time ago; the Be Attitudes. Jesus calls many different types of people “blessed”. The first thing that comes to mind; blessed by what or with what? We are, I believe blessed with His grace and salvation, freely given. That is the kingdom of God come near. This grace gives us the faith that leads us to an eternal relationship with our father in heaven through Christ Jesus. It literally changes who we are.
Changing who we are, if this change is real, will change what we do. As always, the big take away that Martin Luther gave the world is that we do what we do because we are saved, not in order to be saved. Our new lives and the new way we treat people flows from the faith through grace that has saved us. As an insightful commentary on this text points out that “blessed” here refers to a fortunate state of affairs (emphasis mine). The Good News penetrates into our very being and transforms us, it changes us and makes us fortunate (blessed) to be a part of God’s kingdom. This points us toward the realization that we now have an eternal relationship with God that we cannot lose, for He will never forsake us. God is ALWAYS faithful and ALWAYS keeps His promises. We now stand saved, and therefore changed.
So, how are we changed? What are we changed into, or toward which direction are we changed? Jesus then gives us the answer. Blessed (changed) are those poor in spirit, those who mourn, and so on. In short, those whose lives seem so broken today. Jesus is calling us toward those who are on the margins, those on the outside, those who are too often forgotten and disparaged. Along with this are those who are blessed to do God’s work; the peacemakers, those who thirst for righteousness and those who trust God to bring them home in the end. Blessed (fortunate) are even those who are reviled and who suffer for the sake of this proclamation. In some way or another this includes all of us, either the broken or the helpers. We have all likely been either and/or both of these things at one time or another in our lives.
This is radical stuff indeed. As a devotional about this text pointed out, those who first heard this sermon were probably shocked to hear it as they assumed that the Messiah was going to lead them to an Earthly, military victory and be all about strength. I would point out that the way most Christians act today they would be shocked to discover that this is the direction we are to go. It is clear that we are to struggle against the values of this world and do all that we can to struggle on behalf of those whom this world has downtrodden. This is how we are blessed; we have been given the faith through grace to be the eyes and ears, hands and feet of our Lord on behalf of those of His children have been abused and mistreated.
Jesus has given us a radical, free gift of a place in His kingdom; we in turn are to radically work to extend that Kingdom in every direction here and now. The Beatitudes, as well as the entire Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is our charter for living a life of grace. It often does not seem like it is the case in the often-discouraging day to day struggle of our lives, but it is undeniably true that if we believe, we will obey and if we let those God places in our lives help us we will be healed.
Praise Be to God