I have not managed to read my Bible very much lately, but I have been so struck by this realization since it came to me two weeks ago that I think about it nearly every day. I almost feel like I can’t read anything new until my soul finishes savouring the Beatitudes in light of this new perspective. I am familiar with the Beatitudes as a challenging/confusing list of all the ways God’s kingdom is upside down and backwards to what we might expect. However, as I read through Matthew, I freshly noticed the passage between Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and his teaching of the Beatitudes to his disciples (Matthew 4:23-5:2):
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him,and he began to teach them.
In the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is on the fast track – he is fulfilling his mission to proclaim the arrival of God’s kingdom in word and deed, and the news is spreading. He is fantastically well-received, and the intensity of people’s response is hard to imagine: pained, seizing, paralyzed and possessed people from across Syria flocked to him for healing. Crowds followed him, but his response was to withdraw away from the crowd and teach his disciples (those who followed him even when there wasn’t a show). He teaches them the way to obtain God’s blessing, and it is pretty much the opposite of what you would strive for if you were pursuing a promotion or raise in any earthly context.
It must have been confusing for the disciples who heard this sermon, because Jesus talks about persecution and false accusations for his sake when he was pretty much a celebrity and persecution was not on anyone’s radar. From the very beginning, however, Jesus laid a foundation for his disciples to help them not be completely rocked by the way his earthly ministry would end. He tells them that the Kingdom is for the poor in spirit, but he also walks with them to show them, because it is too counter-intuitive to believe.
Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek… These ancient words have been echoing through my days and colouring my perceptions as life happens to me and around me. The Beatitudes are a bizarre foundation for life on this earth, but maybe taking them to heart is the best chance we have to make it through this life with an appetite for eternity.