When Jesus teaches on the mountain, he has a whole group of people sitting
around him. And he begins to talk to them about people who have troubles: the
hopeless, the grieving, the hungry and thirsty, the harassed and the insulted.
But what follows is a shock – Jesus tells them that they are blessed by God for
what they are going through.
That normally isn’t our attitude when we are going through things like this
– much more likely people ask what they did to anger God, or why are they being
punished – but that is not how Jesus frames the situation. He says that they
are actually favored by God, beloved of God because this trouble that they are
facing leads to blessing. And look at the blessings! Jesus tells them that they
will be given heaven, happiness, fullness, mercy and more. They will be
rewarded. He turns what they have been feeling as a negative in their lives,
their suffering and he turns it into a positive.
I wonder what people were thinking when they heard this for the first time.
Did they try cleaning out their ears to see if they heard him correctly? Or did
they think that Jesus was crazy? Did they think he was an optimist who not only
saw the glass half full, but insanely thought the water in it could be
transformed into the best wine? Or did they hear the deeper promises of God
that Jesus was conveying and did it fill them with hope?
I pray that it was the latter. You see, one of the most powerful things
that Jesus does throughout his life and his death is reframe the way we see the
Treasures are not as important as things that don’t rust. The first shall
be last, the last shall be first. Don’t worry about what you shall eat or what
you shall wear. Love your enemies.
In fact, this is the same thing that Jesus does on the cross. When Jesus
suffers and dies, it appears to be a horrible and awful punishment. But God
transforms that suffering by producing life from it – suddenly Christ’s death
is about being set free from the limitations of our humanity. Sin and death no
longer have a hold on us. Forgiveness is offered for our past, and promises
laid out for our future. His resurrection reframes the horrific image of
crucifixion into a source of salvation. And with it, we are reminded that all
suffering including even death is not the end. Instead there is a shocking
blessing which follows, eternal life.
So perhaps Jesus does really get it. Perhaps he sees our suffering more
clearly than we do because he has a wider perspective. So let’s look at this
teaching again, and try to open them up like a stubborn oyster and find the
pearls of wisdom inside. Remember, these are just my thoughts, I encourage you
to look at them and come up with ways you see the blessings in each as I go
The first one is Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of
heaven is theirs. The blessing of hopelessness is that despite the fact that
they have broken spirits, heaven is theirs -- even if they have given up on the
promises of God. They will be surprised when the blessing they had stopped
hoping for happens for them!
The second is Happy are people who grieve because they will be made glad.
The blessing of grief is that joy comes. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow.
In fact, the situation may be like the previous one, it may be that they have
grieved so long that they have given up hope that joy will ever come, but then
comes the day when heaven’s blessed reunion is theirs, and they will be shocked
when God wipes the tears from their eyes and joy is restored!
The third says, Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the
earth. Those who don’t think they are worth a damn are shown they are worth a
blessing. For those of you who think I just swore and are shocked, I used that
phrase on purpose. Being damned is being condemned by God, right? So people who
feel like they aren’t even worth enough of God’s time to be condemned by God
are given the world. They will be shocked to discover they are valued far
beyond their own self-assessment.
The fourth says, Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for
righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full. Righteousness in
Greek is the same word as justice. It is a word meaning that everything is
right and good: internally and externally. So the blessing is that those who
are desperate to see good done, will discover so much goodness, that their
souls will be overflowing with it, and so will our world. Those who desire this
will be shocked when they discover God the immensity of God’s goodness.
The fifth of Jesus’ statements is, Happy are people who show mercy, because
they will receive mercy. This one breaks the pattern of most of the others
because being merciful doesn’t really seem like a situation of suffering that
the prior ones have been. But I suppose it could be, if the person is the type
that all around sees wounded and hurting people in a merciless world. So
perhaps the blessing is that God shocks them by showing that ultimately mercy
wins, and they experience the healing of everything around them.
Jesus’ sixth statement is Happy are people who have pure hearts, because
they will see God. Once again, this one doesn’t really seem to be addressing a
group of people that are obviously suffering, unless it is that their innocence
is stained by the impurity of the world. Like a child, the pure of heart are
traumatized by foul things done around them, and perhaps even to them. God will
bless them with the purity of God’s presence, which may truly overwhelm and
shock, and a realization that God has cleansed and purified everything.
The seventh statement, is Happy are people who make peace, because they
will be called God’s children. Like the last two peace-makers don’t strike us
as people who suffer. And yet those who make peace must see conflict, they must
open their eyes and be witnesses to war and hatred. And such sights do not
easily leave the heart and mind. One could come to believe that conflict is the
only reality. But God promises that it is not, and one day peace will be the
ultimate reality, and I suspect that will be a shock for us all.
Finally Jesus tells us that Happy are people whose lives are harassed
because they are righteous, who are insulted and have bad and false things said
about them because of Christ. They have suffered the harsh condemnation of
others. But the blessing is that they will find the complete and utter
acceptance of God.
Each and every one of these statements reminds us that what is now the
current situation, is not what will be. So the sufferings, the difficulties of
this present age, are not part of the age to come.
Jesus is trying to encourage us to see beyond the present, to look into the
future, and remember that God is still at work. If we could but see what he
sees, we would know it. He wants us to reframe what we experience in life and know
that the worst of what we go through can be transformed into something new and
beautiful. God is always at work recreating, reshaping and reforming our world
and our lives. The suffering of today is the blessing of tomorrow.
When we have lost hope, we need to know that the reign of God is very real
and never gives up. When we grieve, we need to know that the deaths that we
have witnessed in the last year are the reunions that are planned in heaven.
When we are hungry, thirsty, insulted, harassed, merciful, humble, and stepped
on by the world, we need to know that God plans to fill us, love us, lift us
up, show us mercy, until the very kingdom of heaven is ours. And just knowing
that gives us joy.