A word of warning: These words from Matthew’s gospel which we call the Beatitudes are some of the most difficult for us to understand – and to hear - once we do understand. The hearers of these words for centuries have rejected them, shaking their heads and saying something like, “I’m just going to be a good person and let Jesus take care of the rest.” Most of us really DO NOT WANT to follow Jesus if this is what it means. These words go against our cultural wisdom. They challenge our deeply held beliefs. And they are hard to follow. That’s the warning!
I. Blessed are…
If someone told us that they were going to share the key to happiness, they would have our attention. The word used here that is translated “blessed” also means fortunate and happy in the original Greek. [i] So listen, and Jesus has a few words to tell us about how to be happy in life.
Those who are poor in spirit on earth are happy – for the kingdom of heaven will be theirs. They are happy now, for in the future, those who are poor in spirit – who know they are dependent on God – are the ones who will enter the kingdom of heaven. The implied imperative is “Be poor in spirit – depend on God for all things!”
Those who mourn are happy – for they will be comforted in God’s kingdom. Those who lament the present condition of God’s people, who grieve for the state of God’s program in the world, who weep over families torn apart with no plan to reunite them, for those whose hearts break over the homeless in the streets, who suffer over the lack of a living wage and basic healthcare in one of the most affluent countries in the world – these are the lucky ones – for in God’s kingdom they will find comfort.
Those who are meek are happy – for it is to them that the earth will be given. It is to those who are not powerful, who renounce the ways of selfishness, profit and violence to others who will be God’s heirs in the future.
Those who hunger and thirst for what is right, who long for what is right, for God’s kingdom and who focus their lives on doing the will of God – these are the ones who will receive their hearts’ desire.
Happy are the merciful – for they will receive mercy. And the pure in heart – those who devote their hearts to God alone. Happy are the peacemakers – for these are God’s own children. Happy are those who are persecuted – for they are so out of step with the value systems of this age that they already belong to the coming new order of God.
Do you see? Blessed/happy are those now who are already aligned with God’s in-breaking and coming kingdom. Happy are those who are already disciples, who follow the way of Jesus. Blessedness, happiness is knowing that we NEED God. It is an alternative wisdom that looks like foolishness from the perspective of the world’s values.
II. Blessed are the vulnerable….
Blessed are the vulnerable, who know they need God, for they have the capacity to be filled. This is the opposite of pride… those who are open to God and to others. AND It is the vulnerable who can experience a different kind of community – a community that reflects the kindom of God.
If thou could'st empty all thyself of self, Like to a shell dishabited, Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf, And say, 'This is not dead', And fill thee with Himself instead.
But thou art all replete with very thou And hast such shrewd activity, That when He comes, He says, 'This is enow Unto itself - 'twere better let it be, It is so small and full, there is no room for me.'
Blessed are the vulnerable – for they have an emptiness that is open to God and others. Contrary to what we might think, vulnerability sparks cooperation, group interaction, and trust.
Arthur and Elaine Aron did research on the link between vulnerability and connection using 2 sets of questions. The first set encouraged sharing of information: who is your favorite actor and why, etc. The second set of questions involve answers that are a bit more risky. They create discomfort, break down barriers, and encourage authenticity.
Would you like to be famous? In what way?
Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?[iii]
Answering these questions creates closeness because they share vulnerability.
Jesus’ words are an encouragement to let ourselves be vulnerable – to be open to God to lead us, to others to be a part of a different kind of community. Christian faith is “a way of living based on the firm and sure hope that meekness is the way of God, that righteousness and peace will finally prevail, and that God’s future will be a time of mercy and not cruelty. So blessed are those who live this life now, even when such a life seems foolish, for they will, in the end, be vindicated by God.”[iv]
Vulnerability draws us together as a community.
So here we are…we bond together over grief, our struggle, over doubts. But where there is no connection, it is because we have not yet shared risk and vulnerability. We are a bit divided – several groups without much connection. And we need to draw closer to support each other.
BOAT. Look up for a minute. Our ceiling is shaped like an upside-down boat. We gather here – together in a boat, perhaps a lifeboat. Like refugees – refugees from the world hoping for a better place. And we share a different kind of life together. We share food together – both the sacred meal of Communion – and our fellowship meals and snacks – because we’ve been through some traumas together. And we are still open – to others who may want to find that kind of community. God continues to open us up… pouring more of Godself into us, giving us the courage to be….vulnerable. For it is then that we find we are indeed blessed.
This is the Word of God for the people of God.
[i] Makarios = fortunate, happy and in a religious context, blessed.
[ii] Sir Thomas Browne was an English polymath (learned in many areas) who wrote poetry, was interested in science and medicine, religion and philosophy. 1605-1682.
[iv] IDB, Matthew, 181.