When was the last time you felt welcome from others? It may have been a while. These days of polarization have made the concept of welcoming seem rather rare. Yet, the invitation to join a group, an organization, a family, a club gives the feeling of acceptance and that is a blessing. So as we turn to the reading for this coming Sunday, blessing is the order for the day.
The reading is a continuation of the past couple weeks. Jesus had been prepping the disciples to go out and tell the world of God who loves it. The act of telling about a kingdom where the hungry were fed, the sick receive healing care and the outcast received was to be their new identity in life. What were they going to receive from announcing this wonderful message? They were going to be prosecuted, persecuted and divided against family. There are times when families don’t always get along with each other and those times aren’t good. What Jesus was describing was even worse. In those days a person’s identity wasn’t defined by individuality, it was defined by community, your family. Separated from the family meant you lost what defined you. Jesus was sending them out and they were at risk of losing everything this world offers. Jesus now turns to speak words of blessing and welcome.
Jesus said to them,
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Matthew 10:40
Remember the importance of community? The “you” is not singular, it is plural. Jesus was saying that those who receive one of the disciples wasn’t accepting only the person but the whole community of those following Christ. To put it another way, the disciples were already a part of a community and that was the followers of Christ and members of God’s kingdom. Even a cup of cool water offered on a hot day to a disciple was an act of welcoming Christ, the kingdom and finding a new identity in Christ.
These days of polarization may leave you (singular) on the outside and feeling very much alone. Daring to speak of welcome and grace in the name of Christ may even leave you feeling more so. This is where Jesus’ words are such a blessing. There is a community that finds its identity in Christ. You are a part of that community. Anyone who welcomes you (plural), welcomes that community to define them well. You may feel isolated but you are not, you are a part of the kingdom (family) of God. This is a blessing.
If you ask people what a blessed life looks like, you would get a perspective of life that is going well. A person will say they are blessed because they enjoy good health. Another will cite family and speak of them being a blessing. Still another could describe living in a good neighborhood where they feel safe is a blessing. So blessings in a way are about the parts of life that work well and bring us joy. We direct our thankfulness toward God as the giver of such blessings. So as we read from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we get a different perspective on blessings. What Jesus calls a blessing, leaves us scratching our heads because they don’t fit on our list.
Jesus taught that the blessed are: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the merciful, those hungering and persecuted for righteousness, etc. How can this be? Well, we can try to rationalize his words and make them fit our world. We might say that their suffering will change and become a blessing when they get their act together but Jesus didn’t say this. Or that God sent this suffering as a way of testing and that blessing will come in the future. Jesus didn’t say this. We might pass this off as a future event, as being blessed someday in heaven but Jesus didn’t say this. He said, “Blessed are…” meaning the blessings are now in the present. So how do we reconcile Jesus’ view of blessings and our own? We don’t.
The verses just before this tell of Jesus gathering disciples and preaching the message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” His call is for life to be turned around and taken in a different direction. A new way of understanding the world from God’s perspective has been brought near in Jesus. So how does this work? Well, the kingdom of heaven doesn’t belong to those parading the power of faith for all to see. Instead, the kingdom of heaven belongs to those willing to admit the poverty of their faith. Those that struggle for peace when ‘might is right’ seems to be the dominate belief, are the ones blessed to be called children of God. Those insulted and persecuted for speaking truth in the face of power toward the pursuit of justice, walk in the same path as Jesus and the prophets of old. The kingdom of heaven is also theirs.
So what does it mean to be blessed? One perspective is to have life go well. Jesus’ teaching of blessing is to conform our lives to God’s perspective which he lived out for us to see. The two don’t always mix together well. So how do we transform our understanding of blessing? The prophet Micah gives us a start in the companion reading (Micah 6:1-8). “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
If you wanted to be a radical that really wanted to change things, whether it be in your church or community or even the world, what steps would you begin to take?
Would you start a blog to refute ‘fake news’ or what you consider to be ‘fake news?’
Would you grab a sign and join in with others to form a protest march?
Would you become politically active to support the candidates that share your views of how the world should function?
Jesus gave some radical ideas from this reading out of Luke. The type of ideas that are guaranteed to get push back. Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” But if we do this, who will we hate? Who will we demonize and use to scare others into following our political views?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is a wimpy idea. How are we ever going to end up on top if we are looking out for the benefit of others?
Jesus said, “Do not judge.” This is ridiculous. How are we ever going to feel superior to others if we don’t judge them as lesser? How can we justify the lousy ways we treat others if we don’t first judge them worthy of such treatment? How can we be confident of our salvation if we don’t judge other certain for damnation?
Jesus’ words in Luke seem so ridiculous. They are too far out on the fringe. They are too radical to be taken seriously in the world and how it works. This is precisely the point. Jesus is speaking about the reign and the coming rule of the kingdom of God. The ways of God require the endless cycle of hate and abuse and manipulation, etc come to an end. Jesus didn’t come to bless what we bless but came to redeem and make all things new in the resurrection.
So Jesus is inviting us to be radicals for the kingdom of God. It sounds impossible but he isn’t let us off the hook. If we long and hunger for the reign of God to be over us, then we need to be Jesus kind of radicals. In the end we are promised that life will be known that is truly overflowing. The measure of life we grant to others is the measure of life we’ll receive in return.
When talking about being blessed, what comes to mind? Don’t we usually default to what is normally defined by blessing in the world? Normally, blessing involves having big numbers in the checking account at the bank. Blessing is being free from much of life’s trials and struggles – life goes easy. Blessings are what we call all of our friends and family. This is what we consider being blessed.
So we come to the words of Jesus and we are confused because he says just the opposite. He is teaching that blessed are the poor, those who mourn and weep as well as those persecuted because of him. Furthermore, Jesus announces ‘woes’ to those who are rich, happy and regarded with a good reputation by lots of people. Jesus is obviously out of sync with what the world values and we so often define as being the blessed by God.
This reading is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. What makes Luke’s version different is that Jesus comes down to the level plane. He isn’t sitting like a teacher on a hill as a teacher did instructing the students. He came down to the level plane to share with us in the flesh. He came down to stare directly face to face with our humanity and our reality. The good news of the incarnation is that God has not abandoned us in our sin and death but has come to us in Christ Jesus to bring us salvation and the resurrection.
What is important to notice is that Jesus didn’t speak these Beatitudes to the crowds amazed by the healing and casting out of their demons. Jesus was looking at the disciples. He was directing these words to the church. The people of the kingdom. Those who take to heart his ministry which he announced as good news to the poor and release to the captives and of the year of the Lord’s favor which emphasized forgiveness of debts and a rebooting of economic structures. Blessed are those concerned with the kingdom’s presence.
Blessed are the poor for they will know the fullness of the kingdom.
Blessed are those who mourn and weep over the lies and killing and race baiting and hate etc. because they long for the kingdom to be realized by all.
Blessed are those who speak like the prophet of old to the kings of old of the injustice and the trampling of the poor that defined their rule.
Blessed are those devoted to the kingdom. Blessed are those longing for the salvation that only Christ brings. Blessed are those seeking the new life of Christ’s resurrection to be known by all of creation.
Have a blessed day.
This has been called by many as Jesus’ inauguration speech. He is setting the stage for what his work and ministry will be in the future. He was in the synagogue and reads from the prophet Isaiah about good news preached to the poor and freedom to the prisoners and the recovery of sight to the blind and release of the captives and the year of the Lord’s favor. As the eyes of all were fixed on Jesus, he announced that this Scripture was fulfilled in their hearing of it.
Their eyes were fixed on Jesus but I wonder if they were thinking this was good news for them. I am wondering if we also look at the same reading as good news for today? After all, what do we think about when the idea of the coming of the Lord is talked about? Don’t we think about blessing. The Lord will bless us and the blessing is defined as keeping our positions of power and control in society. We think about wealth. We think about maintaining what is or a possible return to an idealized glory of the past. We think we know what the coming of the Lord will be like but the Lord’s thinking is not always in tune with ours.
The Scripture Jesus read was nothing less than the rebooting of society. The year of the Lord’s favor (Jubilee) was the cancellation of debts and return of even the land to previous owners. The poor and imprisoned are no longer under the boot of the powerful. This is the Lord’s way of bringing blessing to society.
Now those present spoke well of Jesus. In other words they were trying to get on his good side and graces. However, Jesus told of how God’s graces reached out to a poor Gentile widow and Naaman the Syrian, not to Israel. They were enraged and tried to throw Jesus off a nearby cliff to kill him. Jesus didn’t fit with their thinking of blessing.
Jesus announced the start of his ministry by reading from Scripture of the rebooting of society. The rich are brought down with the poor raised up. All debts are cancelled. This is how society will be blessed in his ministry. What do you think about this?