From Ryan Ruffing
Here, at the beginning of Jesus’ teaching ministry in Matthew’s gospel, we are abruptly challenged by words that can only be described as ‘from another reality’ - words that seem to have their root in a fundamentally different order of things. The whole of Jesus’ teaching in The Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:27) is summed up by the reaction of his listeners - “the crowds were astonished at his teaching.” (7.28) If we do not pause to read these words with fresh eyes, we risk missing what is astonishing, glossing over familiar phrases like a friend we have learned to take for granted. We may easily miss that Jesus is inviting us to nothing less than a total transformation of every part of our being - from the depth of our heart to our most public action. We are being invited to walk a path which leads from the ‘order of this world’ to the ‘order of the Kingdom of God.’
Jesus begins this invitation to re-orientation with the 9 statements we read yesterday, called The Beatitudes (from the Latin word meaning blessed). These statements are straightforward and deceptively simple - each packing a radical message. We see their radical nature by contrast, if we imagine for a moment how our western American culture might compose its beatitudes - blessed are the rich, blessed are the powerful, blessed are the well dressed, blessed are you when you play your cards just right and come out on top, blessed are you when you look like you’re on top even though it’s just a show, blessed are the quick witted and sharp tongued, blessed are the argument-winners, blessed are the over-achievers, blessed are the intelligent, blessed are you when others notice that you’re intelligent, blessed are you when you are well liked by the ones who others notice are intelligent, blessed are you when you look, talk and post on Facebook like one of the intelligent ones, blessed are the corporate ladder climbers, blessed are you when you side-step the bosses wrath and let someone else take the fall, blessed are the world-traveling, Instagram snapping, no-worries-in-the-world-killing-it-at-life ones, blessed are you when people say so many nice things about you and lift you high on a pedestal of desire and envy.
As I write this list, I feel my own insides tense, realizing how much of this vision of life has footholds in my own heart. In ways small and large, I love this picture - I have believed it is the way of flourishing. And yet, in its pursuit, I have been bent double with the burden of selfish concern, I have hurt others, I have been left utterly dry and dead.
And here is Jesus - speaking words that pour over my soul like water over cracked ground. You do not have to live in this desert - I will take you to an abundant place of plenty. Begin here - re-learn in the deepest part of yourself what it means to be blessed, let me replace the lie that you have loved with myself.
I invite you to re-read these statements of blessing, and as we continue to read Jesus’ sermon over the next several days, let’s seek to see it with fresh eyes and open hearts.