Written by Pastor Mark Bringman
Matthew 5:1 – 20 NRSV
When 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.
13 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
In the previous passage of Matthew, Jesus has been everywhere – he has resisted the temptation of the powers of sin, death and darkness last week when he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. In between that and this he has called the disciples with the promise that they will be fishers of people and he healed the sick.
He has done – he has resisted the powers of this world (embodied in the Adversary), has built a movement by calling regular, every day people to follow him and he has shown God’s desire for the creation by healing. Wholeness is his plan.
Up until now Jesus has talked by doing. Francis of Assissi said “Preach the gospel at all times – use words when necessary.” Jesus hasn’t used words up until this point because the pictures that he has been painting – of healing, of calling to those that the rest of the world ignores and showering them with the love of God are so powerful.
But it is time to talk. And in continuance with the Jewish roots of Matthew he does so by ascending up a mountain (places in the Bible associated with God such as Sinai, Jacob’s ladder or the Temple Mount in Jerusalem) and by seating himself – assuming the role of a Jewish sage. This is the ancient equivalent of approaching a blackboard or lectern (or a power point screen if we want to get a bit more modern).
Jesus does this to begin to teach about who God is and what his desire for creation is. Sometimes actions can be misconstrued, so he begins to preach the gospel in words.
He starts by saying that people are blessed. But the things that he chooses are not the ways that the world typically looks at blessing. Indeed many of his blessings: to mourn, to be meek, to be reviled, to be persecuted, would not be looked on by the world as something to be blessed by, to be looked forward to. For some of them we have a sense of divine turnaround – that the tables will be flipped. The mourners will be joy filled. The poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom. The downtrodden, the ignored, the oppressed, the people that are ignored are going to finally have a moment in the sun.
Many of the others listed are not exemplified as great traits, such as the merciful – we usually don’t pay as much attention to the merciful as those who act forcefully and assertively. The Peacemakers are often not lauded in history – the most famous presidents, kings and athletes we tend to highlight are those that have been great warriors, rather than those who were great peacemakers and uniters.
But Jesus wants to emphasize that the ways of the world, the ways that he denied when faced by Satan, the ways that desire lead to, are not the ways that we are blessed. Instead of a me first attitude, these blessings (or beatitudes – from the Latin word meaning blessing) emphasize relationship. Being merciful only makes sense when there is someone to show mercy upon. Being a peacemaker only works if there are conflicts to bring peace to. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness is a blessing if that hunger and thirst is being done for others – otherwise it is self righteousness and that has never been a blessing.
The gospel reminds us, time and again that when we draw borders, when we try to create a line saying who is in or out, that wherever we draw that line, we find Jesus standing on the other side. The Pharisees tried to divide the world into the holy and the mundane, to define what was of God’s (and therefore righteous) and what was not. In so doing, they ended up falling into the temptation that lies in wait for all of us – to decide who we think is in or out, who we think is pure in heart, or merciful, or holy.
Jesus, through his healing and calling, through his teaching reminds us that the righteousness of God does not look for the rich or the beautiful or the powerful or those that come from a good family. Instead Jesus came for the poor in spirit, for those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for those who are sad, for the lonely. Jesus came for losers. He came for those struggling with addiction, for those who don’t know how to make ends meet, for those who are sad, for those who don’t have a meal on the table or a place to lay their head, for all who are struggling (in fact everyone): “Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost” (1st Timothy 1:15). God’s turn around hinges around the Son of Man, who comes to save all creation, to share God’s blessing.
Quotes on Blessing
“Every day I feel is a blessing from God. And I consider it a new beginning. Yeah, everything is beautiful.” Prince
“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.” Camille Pissarro
“Until we meet again, may God bless you as he has blessed me.” Elvis Presley
“The heavenly blessing is to be delivered from the law, sin and death; to be justified and quickened to life: to have peace with God; to have a faithful heart, a joyful conscience, a spiritual consolation; to have the knowledge of Jesus Christ, to have the gift of prophecy, and the revelation of the Scriptures; to have the gift of the Holy Ghost, and to rejoice in God.”
Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians
Questions for the week
- Read through the blessings section again – what is one blessing that stirs with you right now, what blessing touches your heart more and why?
- What does poor in spirit mean to you?
- Who would you say are blessed today – what is a group that Jesus would say is especially blessed?
- Think of the people who have been important in your life. What quality or qualities of blessing did they exhibit?
- What is a blessing that you are in need more of?
Note on the title. Jesus came for losers comes from Mark Allen Powell’s “Loving Jesus”. He recounts seeing “Jesus came for losers” on a t shirt. It’s a great book and a great read.