As we begin a fresh new year on the calendar, we’ll be exploring the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 and Luke 6, remembering that both John the Baptizer and Jesus called us to a radical repentance because the “Kingdom of God is at hand!” The Greek word used here for repentance indicates more than just “turning around” or changing one’s ways: “Metanoia.”
Using the beatitudes as a template for our own attitudes, we can make a plan of action to experience “Metanoia” or a change of perspective/change of heart. The Beatitudes challenge us to seeing the world in a new way because the conditions for which Jesus congratulates his listeners seem to be less than positive or even ideal.
Read through these Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12 a:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Now, because we live in an age where our idea of “blessed” has been somewhat neutralized, let me try and recapture what Jesus was really indicating when he said, “Blessed are you. . .” The Greek word here is “Makarios” and it indicates not just a blessing, but a blessing of divine proportions. If you look through different translations, you’ll see other words such as. “Fortunate, happy, lucky.” My preferred translation is offered by the Scholar’s Version: “Congratulations!”
Why would Jesus be congratulating this massive group of people who had gathered to hear the long expected Messiah? They were actually the hungry, the poor, the persecuted, the mourners. The last thing they expected to hear from Jesus is that they should celebrate their lot in life. What Jesus was preaching here was his view of the “Kingdom at hand.” In God’s upside down kingdom, the first come last and the last come first. Those who are poor should rejoice. Those who are mourning should recognize their blessings! So those who were gathered were already living in God’s Kingdom.
While it’s hard for us to digest this idea of the Kingdom, just imagine what the First Century listeners were thinking! The more I ponder it, the more I recognize how much better we would be if we realigned our own perspective to fit into that of Jesus’. The Kingdom of God is certainly different than the world we live in, and that’s why true disciples of Jesus Christ experience such a disconnect when it comes to living out the principles of the Beatitudes. Poverty, hunger, meekness, and mercy are not exactly “Valuable traits” to possess in the here and now.
When preaching on the Beatitudes, Carolyn Arends suggests the example of Ruby Bridges embodies these teachings. Ruby Bridges was just six years old in 1960 when she became the first black student to attend an all white school in New Orleans. This was a tumultuous time over the idea of “Desegregation” and Ruby ended up attending school all by herself that year. Entering the school and heading home each day she was accompanied by US Marshals, to protect her from the angry parents and community members that shouted obscenities and threw vegetables and trash at her. A child psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Coles, was studying stress in children and decided that there were no children more stressed than little Ruby, whose life was threatened on a daily basis just for going to school. What he discovered though, was that she walked with her head held high and with marked determination she didn’t let any of the insults and threats daunt her. Through interviewing her, he found that she was praying for her persecutors every day. By name. And her prayer was always the same, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
Click HERE to watch a wonderful interview with Dr. Robert Coles as he remembers his interaction with this Child of the Kingdom, Ruby Bridges.
When we look at the way Ruby was able to live out her faith in the midst of the turmoil of desegregation, what we see is someone living in the Kingdom of God. Living out each of the beatitudes, she was able to change her perspective and show us a modern day example of what it is like to be comfortable in God’s upside down kingdom.
Throughout the rest of January and right up until Lent, we’ll be learning about the traits espoused by Jesus in the Beatitudes and then learn how to live them out in our daily lives. I hope you’ll join us week by week, and if not, catch up with the series right here on our webpage.
Peace in Christ,