1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Beatitudes were not a new thing in the world of Jesus. Usually, they were common sense sayings that expressed what everyone already knew – the conventional wisdom. For instance – “Blessed are those on a low-fat diet, for they will have healthy arteries”–that sort of thing.
Jesus turns all this upside down. Nobody would have associated blessings with being poor or in grief. In the reign of God, however, Jesus show us that God’s favor is upon those who have been left behind– the last, the least, the lost, and the lonely. Perhaps these marginalized and ignored people were the ones gathering around Jesus as he begins preaching a Sermon on the Mount with these beatitudes. They found his message of God’s favor to be empowering and uplifting. The prophet Micah also turned a few ideas about God upside down. What does the Lord require of you – not the usual stuff as far as the people of God were concerned. Not expensive sacrifice and smelly offerings – but doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. That’s how you respond to God’s saving acts. Living out the kind of justice God wants – giving honor and respect and kindness and humility to those whom God loves – all people.
The Greek word we translate as “blessed” refers to God’s favor. It could also be translated as “honored.” Some translations use the word happy – but that word doesn’t quite cover it – particularly because in our culture seems to be something you can buy or achieve if you just work hard enough. These verses is not talking about what you can buy or earn, but about what God gives and how God works.
These verses don’t show Jesus as pop psychologist, telling people how to be happy; they show Jesus giving honor to those who have none. “Honored are you when people revile and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account”. In Jewish life you were either a somebody or a nobody. If you were a somebody then you were respected. But if you were a nobody then you were reviled. If you had a moderate amount of wealth, a job, a family, and a home – if you have people – you were a somebody. If you had no wealth, no job, no family, no home, no people – you were a nobody.
Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber is an author and public theologian for the Lutheran church – her words are a gift to us.
“Maybe the Sermon on the Mount is all about Jesus’ lavish blessing of the people around him on that hillside who his world—like ours—didn’t seem to have much timefor: people in pain, people who work for peace instead of profit, people who exercise mercy instead of vengeance.”
“Maybe Jesus was simply blessing the ones around him that day who didn’t otherwise receive blessing, who had come to believe that, for them, blessings would never be in the cards. I mean, come on, doesn’t that just sound like something Jesus would do? Extravagantly throwing around blessings as though they grew on trees?
So I imagine Jesus standing among us offering some new beatitudes:
Blessed are the agnostics.
Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised.
Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information.
Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction.
Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears could fill an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like.
Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.
Blessed are they who don’t have the luxury of taking things for granted anymore.
Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else.
Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.”
Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers.
Blessed are the forgotten. Blessed are the closeted.
Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented.
Blessed are the teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek.
You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard, for Jesus chose to surround himself with people like them.
Blessed are those without documentation. Blessed are the ones without lobbyists.
Blessed are foster kids and special-ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved.
Blessed are those who make terrible business decisions for the sake of people.
Blessed are the burned-out social workers and the overworked teachers and the pro bono case takers.
Blessed are the kindhearted football players and the fundraising trophy wives.
Blessed are the kids who step between the bullies and the weak.
Blessed are they who hear that they are forgiven.
Blessed is everyone who has ever forgiven me when I didn’t deserve it.
Blessed are the merciful, for they totally get it.
I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us all because I believe that is our Lord’s nature. Because, after all, it was Jesus who had all the powers of the universe at his disposal but did not consider his equality with God something to be exploited. Instead, he came to us in the most vulnerable of ways, as a powerless, flesh-and-blood newborn. As if to say, “You may hate your bodies, but I am blessing all human flesh. You may admire strength and might, but I am blessing all human weakness. You may seek power, but I am blessing all human vulnerability.”
This Jesus whom we follow cried at the tomb of his friend and turned the other cheek and forgave those who hung him on a cross. Because he was God’s Beatitude—God’s blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong. God bless you.”