Beatitudes or Anti-Beatitudes?
In this morning's gospel reading, we overhear Jesus teaching what we call "the
beatitudes" or the blessings. Theologian John Dominic Crossan actually
refers to them as the "anti-beatitudes" for reasons that we will see shortly.
This teaching illustrates what Philip Yancey calls Jesus' mastery of "contrarian
thinking." Yancey says that: "The Sermon on the Mount expresses quite plainly
that God views this world with different lenses. One could almost [call] the
sermon, "Survival of the Least Fit."
This flies in the face of our present-day "Survivor" mentality doesn't it?
Strength, control, connections, and the competitive instinct may bring a person
success in a society like ours; but what Jesus tells us in this gospel, is that
those very qualities may get in the way of our entrance to the kingdom of
heaven. That's a hard lesson to hear, and it puts us in an uncomfortable place
this morning. But if I know anything about the God of our ancestors, it's that
God does not call us to the places where we are comfortable –because the true
place of our calling is the cross -- and it's not a place of comfort so much as
a place of challenge.
This text today draws us out of our comfort zone, and into the challenge of
finding the good news in these words of Jesus. The teaching here is a
pronouncement. He never uses the words "should" or "ought" or "must" – in fact,
there is no particular instruction at all. Jesus simply announces the way things
ARE in God's kingdom. And it's quite a reversal of the typical model of success
and failure that our society would like to impose. Luke asks us to turn the
world's values upside down, and see the world as Jesus sees it. Everything that
we believed was true about making it in the world, about being a success, about
winning... it's all wrong. Jesus says the losers are the real winners, and the
winners are living an illusion.
It's the kind of teaching that can knock you off your feet. Because it's
really about one of the most basic things in life -- it's about TRUST. It's a
reminder that where we place our trust, how we decide what is important, and
what we seek after in this life, determines our path – and determines our place
in God's realm. If we place our trust in the things of this world, then Jesus is
clear about where that path leads. On the other hand, if we're about the
business of being a blessing to those whom Jesus blesses, then we are on the
So Jesus turns our world on its ear, and asks "Where have your placed your
trust?" I don't hear Jesus insisting that we live in poverty in order to be
blessed, only that we keep a proper perspective on what we perceive to be
present blessings. Jesus came to the world so that we could find our way back to
God. This lesson tells us that if we place our trust in God, rather than in the
stuff of this world that is fleeting and could be gone in an instant, we will
find our way home. And that's good news.
The prophet Jeremiah tells us that those who
trust in the Lord are "like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the
stream." We're challenged today to take a look at where we are planted. We are
invited to be planted in Christ, close to the streams of God's living water, sending out
our roots to be nourished by God's love. The late Father Henri Nouwen wrote these words in
his final journal entry on March 28, 1996. He says, During the Eucharist this morning we
talked about God's covenant. God says, "I am your God and will be faithful to you
even when you won't be faithful to me." Through human history, this divine
faithfulness is shown to us in God's increasing desire for intimacy.
At first God was the God FOR us, our protector and shield. Then, when Jesus came, God
became the God WITH us, our companion and friend. Finally, when Jesus sent his Spirit, God
was revealed to us as the God WITHIN us, our very breath and heartbeat. Nouwen
continues....... Our life is full of brokenness broken relationships, broken
promises, broken expectations. How can we live that brokenness without becoming bitter and
resentful except by returning again and again to God's faithful presence in our lives?
Without this place of return, our journey easily leads to darkness and despair. But
with this safe and solid home, we can keep renewing our faith, and keep trusting that the
many setbacks of life move us forward to an always greater bond with the God of the
The journal entry ends there. Father Nouwen points out how blessed we are with the safe
and solid home of God's presence, and he reminds us that our trust in God will see us
through all of the changes and chances of life. And that take us back to the sermon on the
plain. Though it was framed in a very challenging way, the word of Jesus to the disciples
in today's gospel was good news! He announced that his presence with them marked a new way
to be in the world. The realm of God had arrived and nothing would ever be the same again.
Jesus invited the disciples, and invites us, to "dream in technicolour". He
tells us that the realm of God is bigger than our best hopes could ever be. And
woe to us if we try to confine those dreams in the insignificant winnings of
The question is: when the world keeps feeding us the "Survivor" mentality –
how do we hold on to this outrageous Dream of God? We live in faith, TRUSTING
always in the Lord's goodness. Trusting that God's dream is real — that the poor
will not only have food and shelter, but they will have the glory of the whole
realm of God. That the hungry will not only have a juicy steak and a full belly,
but will forever be filled and satisfied at the feast of the Holy. That the
weeping and the sorrowful will not only see the end of their grief, but will
bubble over with laughter at the pure graciousness of God. All joy will be
To trust in this dream of God is be like the tree, sending out roots into the
living water. We who are planted in Christ, are called to turn the world upside
down with his radical vision of love, justice and humility. We are called to
believe, right down to our roots – that God is with us. That nothing in this
life is more important than knowing and trusting that this is true. Trusting in
God's presence, we can then listen for the rush of living water crashing in on
the world's deep thirst for God. May it be so.