What crosses your mind when you see the list of beatitudes on the fridge or on a bookmark?
These difficult passages are recorded two times in the Bible, once in Matthew 5 and an abbreviated yet harsher version in Luke 6. Both passages share a specific word that we translate as ‘poor’ in greek it is ‘ptochoi’. it means those crouching, or the bent over ones. It refers to the beggars. These aren’t just the unemployed, these are the unemployable. The word blessed is better understood in a congratulatory way, like ‘Happy are you’, or literally ‘congratulations’. So Markus Barth’s translation of opening line as ‘Congratulations you bums’ isn’t far off.
The context of this address is integral in it’s understanding. Just before Jesus opens his mouth to teach these ideas he has scanned the hillside and looked at the multitudes that have followed him. It is a crowd made up largely of the sick, the dying, the possessed and paralyzed. This is a sad bunch. They are literally the beggars who have found no room in the kingdoms of this world. I think it is obvious that the system is broken. Many of these ‘poor’ are kept this way because of the selfish and corrupt systems that govern life. They have no access to health care, to community or city life, and even for religious hope as many of them would be deemed unclean. This is a tired and weary crowd of hopelessness and desperation.
Jesus climbs the hillside and sits down and addresses the elephants in the room. “Congratulations to those who are without a kingdom, because the kingdom of God is yours’. (my paraphrase of Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom) I wonder if when Jesus tells the disciples that the kingdom of God belongs to all of those strewn across the hillside like it was woodstock, I wonder if they were puzzled.
What goes through my mind is simply ‘Do they know this?’. Do they know that there is a kingdom where they belong. Do they understand they are citizens, and that they matter still. I imagine if one of the disciples had of asked that question Jesus would have replied
“No they don’t, that’s why we’re going to tell them”.
This is why the Good news was so good. ‘Repent for the kingdom is within reach’.
Or better understood Change your thinking to a better way, A new social order is showing up, and you are apart of it.
We all know what kingdoms and governments look like, but where is this kingdom Jesus speaks of?, and what does it look like because it obviously looks different than anything we have imagined. Jesus is asked this question in Luke 17:20. His answer is revealing. Let me paraphrase it this way ‘This world within which God is king doesn’t exist like other kingdoms. Kingdoms of this world need power or money and force to be observed. This world where God reigns is within us.’ Jesus is describing a kingdom that breaks through our ordinary lives and reveals itself as God’s purposes here and now. It is God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven.
2000 years later, we’re still asking the same question ‘where is this kingdom of God?’
I asked a friend who is a missionary in Haiti how he views this first beatitude living amongst abject poverty, and if he views it differently. He said that he doesn’t think of it differently of it being there, but because he was thinking on it he is there. He is living in the Paradox of those who know of this kingdom-telling those who don’t. And in that process they are both being transformed.
The kingdom breaks through and shows up every time you respond with unmerited generosity.
The kingdom of God is exposed when confronted with opportunities of greed and corruption and we choose a different way. When we give up what our culture says is rightfully ours for the sake of those who have less, when our pleasure isn’t at the expense of someone else’s-the kingdom has broken through. In the everyday ordinary decisions of our lives when we choose to let love win, not opinion or religion or fundamentalism…The kingdom of God reveals itself.
I think one of the most powerful things that happens when the discarded of our societies are told that they belong as full participants in God’s world, they are validated. There is this idea that God sees them and is there with them. Paul Hewson says it well ‘God is with the poor, and God is with us-if we are with them.’
Something amazing happens to those of us who are not in need of material things, yet respond to those who’ve known nothing but. There is a mystery that exists when we set out to share with those in this world who have been abandoned by family, friends, religion and state. The conviction that they need to understand that they were made for more than this. When we tell them that they are more than the sum total of their past mistakes, failures, and limitations, more than their race, creed or family history. When we love those who are unloved, when we attempt to save the lives of those forgotten, we discover that we save ourself in the process.
Several years ago my faith community raised some money for a secular organization that helps those struggling with HIV/AIDS in our city. When I was delivering the cheque there was some skepticism on behalf of those receiving it. ‘We don’t normally receive money from organizations like you’ they said. ‘We don’t normally give money to organizations like you’, I said. I told them that their organization was reaching out to the hurting and marginalized people in our city and we saw God in what they did, and we wanted to celebrate that. I could see they where still skeptical, so I addressed what I felt was the elephant in the room. “You think I am here to try and get you saved right?”. they all nodded in agreement. “I am not here to save you,” I said “I am hoping you can save me”. They looked puzzled and asked ‘save you from what’? I told her we needed to be saved from homophobia, from intolerance, from bigotry, from apathy and prejudice. And this was that path.
As I walked away to find my car, I realized the paradox of what I had done. In helping fight my own prejudice and ignorance, I helped them fight theirs. The sky was brighter that day. Thats what happens when heaven breaks through. Congratulations to the bums, because the kingdom is theirs, and if it is theirs, maybe it could be ours too.
Other thoughts in this direction.