As people of faith, we have spiritualized the Beatitudes so much so that we think of them only as a way to get into Kingdom of Heaven. Instead, we should look at them as an invitation to embody these blessings in our lives as disciples of Christ so that we can “see more clearly the ways we can act to bring God’s Kingdom into people’s lives.”
January 29, 2023
“Lessons from the Gospel of Matthew”
Blessed Are You
Matthew 5: 1-12
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Matthew 5: 1-12
(The Message version)
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught them. This is what he said:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and God’s rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. God will satisfy the hungry heart like nothing else in the world. .
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being full of care for others,’ you find yourselves cared for. “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of good trouble.
Blessed Are You 5: 1-12
As you may have noticed, I chose to go with a more non traditional reading of this particular text. For me, this version seemed to capture, it seemed to invite a new understanding of this very familiar text. As I read this more non-traditional version, I appreciated how it took the Beatitudes out of the “churchy” context and used everyday language because oftentimes, that churchy language is a stumbling block for so many.
What I mean by this is that for those of us who have grown up in the church, sometimes the traditional readings of particular texts are so familiar that they have become white noise to us. And in doing so, these particular texts lose their challenge. They lose their shock value. They lose their ability to open our eyes to the Kingdom of God in our midst. Then on the other hand, for those of us who are new to this church thing, a lot of times the wording which is used in the services, in the faith tradition feels like a foreign language which only a select few can and will understand.
Or let me say it this way..I came across this article about a class taught at Yale. This class was first taught in 2018 and has become Yale’s most popular class in over 300 years. So far, more than 3.7 million people have enrolled in the class. “Anyone can audit the course for free, and $49 lets you complete assignments, submit them for a grade and earn a certificate of completion.
The class is titled; “The Science of Well Being,” It focuses on understanding. It focuses on letting go of all the superficial notions of happiness, such as the idea that a better job, fancier house, or a new relationship is the next step closer to happiness. Students also receive a series of homework “rewirements,” or practices aimed at helping them develop better habits, These include making more time for exercise and sleep, engaging in more social connection and random acts of kindness, taking time to savor and experience more gratitude, and mindfulness.
The professor shared that: “All of us want to be happier,”“The problem is that we have a lot of misconceptions about what really will make us happy. We think we need to change our circumstances in major ways, but often simply behavioral and mindset changes can make a big difference in our sense of well-being.”
As I read this article, I couldn’t help but think what she is teaching is the Beatitudes, simply the 2023 version. This professor is simply taking what Matthew wrote in his Gospel some two thousand years ago, updating it with more modern language and is now teaching it as a college course.
Please don’t hear me say I find fault with this. In fact, I think it is brillant. I greatly appreciate that this professor is able to share what we in the church would call the good news in ways we as the wider church have not been able to do for many years. However, given the popularity of this class, it does make me wonder why…Why is it that when the Beatitudes are packaged as the secret to wellbeing people listen but when it is shared as “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek’, many including those of us sitting in the pews tend to ignore their invitation to peace and well being.
Again, Being in relationship with one another is not anything new. Being in community is nothing new. Reframing our conversations, our viewpoints away from the things, the item which the world tells us will make us happy, none of that is new. So why is it that the 2023 version of the Beatitudes are so popular as a college course but we tend to ignore them as practices of faith which go back some 2000 years?
I think it all comes down to one thing…We as the church, we as people of faith have “spiritualized these Beatitudes and many of our other faith practices [to the point where] we can no longer think of them in any other way than a way to get into some distant Kingdom of Heaven. As people of faith, we can no longer see that the Beatitudes, our faith practices are ways for us to experience the Kingdom of God here and now. For us, whether that be Matthew’s version or this 2023 version, the Beatitudes, our practices of faith are about connecting to God and to one another. They are an invitation to embody these blessings in our lives as disciples of Christ so that we can become the people God created and calls us to be.
You see, in his telling of the Beatitudes to the disciples, and in turn to us as his readers, Matthew shows us that Jesus did not come to do a new thing. Matthew is not saying to his readers that they need to forget everything they knew about God before and listen only to this man named Jesus. Matthew is showing the disciples, is showing us that everything which Jesus taught, everything which Jesus did is an extension of the covenant which God made with the people of Israel all those years ago, a covenant which calls, which challenges, which reminds the people of God to love their God with all their heart, mind and soul and to love their neighbor as themselves.
Matthew frames this continued covenantal conversation within the context of blessings. Think of blessed as happy, or content but even those words really don’t do justice to the concept. It is more about living in right relationship with our God, living in right relationship with our neighbors. But not in the sense of right or wrong but in the sense, that everything feels “right”, that we are at peace, we know that where we are and what we are doing line up with the values of the Beloved Community and that we are constantly connected to the sacred in our midst.
The Beatitudes which Matthew shares in his Gospel are more about living out the vision of God’s Peaceable Kingdom here on Earth, where all are welcomed, where all are embraced, where all are accepted as Beloved Children of God.
These blessings which Matthew has Jesus extend to the disciples and in turn extend to us as his readers are not ways for us to get ahead of others but rather they are words of transformation, words of call, words of discernment, They are ways which challenge us to build up the Beloved Community in our midst.
The Beatitudes, our faith, our living in right relationship with our God and with one another, the secret to our well-being if we wanted to use the language of the 2023 version of this particular text “ is an invitation to reframe our narrative away from power and might and all the other things this world tells us will make us happy. They are an invitation to embody these blessings, these connection points to the sacred in our lives as disciples of Christ so that we can “see more clearly the ways we can act to bring God’s Kingdom into people’s lives.” May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, January 29, 2023 – Blessed Are You Matthew 5: 1-12.