The Blessed Perspective
Matthew 5: 1-12
A few years ago I remember looking through some “first day of school” pictures. On my first day of sixth grade I had a big smile on my face, so happy to be leaving elementary school and starting at the big middle school with lots of new kids, potential new friends, it was gonna be great! I laughed when I saw the next picture which was taken just a few days later. I had a big frown on my face, purposely posing in a way that made me look tired, bored, and ready for the school year to be over. I guess there’s something about the first day of anything that captures your attention and makes you excited to be there. Something about firsts that draws us in.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been exploring a number of firsts in Jesus’ ministry. Two weeks ago we remembered Jesus’ Baptism. Last week Jesus called his first disciples. This week we hear Jesus’ first sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. In a way it’s the first day of school for his disciples. And the fact that this is Jesus’ first preaching material means we should pay extra close attention to what he says here. This Sermon on the Mount, and specifically the first part of it—what we call the Beatitudes—sets the tone for the rest of Jesus’ teaching and ministry. Sticking with our school metaphor, consider the Beatitudes the topic of Jesus’ first course: Discipleship 101.
In this passage Jesus tells his poor and downtrodden audience that they are blessed. Contrary to the common understanding of the day that wealth and prosperity were signs of God’s blessings, Jesus is saying that the truly blessed were the poor, the poor in spirit, the mourning, the persecuted. It’s the complete opposite of the theology of the day. And it’s the complete opposite of what many people think today too. How many of us, whether consciously or subconsciously, think that we’re successful in life because of God’s blessing. I live in a safe country, in a nice town, and generally have it pretty good in life, and I do feel blessed by God. I’m sure many of you feel the same. And it’s good to feel grateful and appreciative. However, the problem is when we start to think of wealth and success as a sign of God’s favor. To this Jesus says no! The people God favors are the poor, the mourning, the meek, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness (presumably because they’re being treated so unrighteously by the powers that be). Those are the people who are blessed, Jesus says.
So how can we make sense out of this? The Beatitudes that deal with our inner state make some sense. God likes it when we’re merciful, pure in heart, and peaceful. That’s not hard to grasp. But the first four beatitudes basically say blessed are you who suffer. Why is that a sign of God’s favor? Why is being poor or being sad or being taken advantage of a good thing in Jesus’ mind?
Jesus answers this question: because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. If we recall last week’s teaching on metanoia, that changing of our minds, that transformed perspective—we see Jesus is saying that all these people are already living a life which will cultivate the kingdom perspective. Challenging life circumstances that practically force them into metanoia. The poor in spirit already see things from the kingdom point of view because they’re not distracted by sin and wealth and things that don’t matter. The poor understand better than the rich what the world should be like. The mourning understand the meaning of life better than those who haven’t experienced hardship. The meek understand the way the world should be structured better than the powerful who always fight to have things their way.
The people Jesus mentions in the Beatitudes are people who have the kingdom perspective. Or at the very least, people who are more likely to see the kingdom perspective. To see God’s way of seeing.
This is not to glorify poverty or to say that suffering is God’s will. But it is to say that according to Jesus the poor and suffering have a lot to teach the rest of us. The lesson for us is to understand that we should seek the wisdom of the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast. When deciding how we should act or what we should advocate for in our towns, state, or nation—we should seek out the perspective of the people Jesus mentions here. What do they say is important? What would they say the church should be doing in the world? What would they say our national priorities should be? If we really trusted the perspective of the poor, or the meek, or the peacemakers what would our world look like? What would our churches be doing? Who would our leadership be? What would human civilization look like if we understood the poor, the mourning, the meek, and the oppressed as the ones who see God’s perspective most clearly?
I bet you a homeless man in Harlem would have a very different idea about what society’s priorities should be than a billionaire CEO in Manhattan, even if the CEO is a decent church-going guy who donates a lot to charity. There’s something about always having your needs met that makes us lose perspective. But when your needs aren’t being met, you are hit with the daily reality that the world could and should be a very different place. When you live that reality, you understand why we pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, and you probably have a better idea of how to make it happen.
So this text isn’t saying “Oh those lucky poor people, they have it so good”. What it’s saying is that the poor and suffering have a blessed perspective that disciples of Jesus are called to listen to.
This should challenge us. It should call us to change our minds. It should call us to transform our perspective. And the Beatitudes offer a simple way to do just that: by learning from those who are most blessed. Because they have the kingdom perspective. They get it. And the church is not only called to help those who suffer, but to learn from them, and let our mission be inspired by them. To let their needs direct how we act, how we serve, how we expend our energy.
When we do that, we will follow the words of the prophet Micah. We will do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. When we have the humility to trust the perspective of the suffering and oppressed, we will better understand God’s mission for the church and Jesus’ vision for the world as God intends.
So as we reflect on Jesus’ first sermon in Matthew, let this message set the tone for all that follows. Let us feel a commitment to seek out the blessed perspective of the poor in the spirit, the mourning, the meek, and the oppressed. Let us strive to be merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and willing to suffer for doing what is right. This is the lifestyle Jesus calls us to. It’s not easy being a disciple. But if we are serious about responding to God’s love and grace with transformed minds and transformed lives, then the Beatitudes will be our way of life.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 01/29/23