It was hot out there on the hillside, the afternoon sun was clear and strong, but none of them went looking for shade. Instead, they leaned in closer, for nobody wanted to miss a word He said. It had already been rumoured that He did not teach like the scribes and Pharisees, but spoke with a unique authority, and for once rumour was an understatement. They had never heard words like this before, and they strained to hear as each phrase dropped into their minds like a stone into a lake, making a distinct splash and leaving ripples of confusion behind.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Wait .. what? Weren’t the blessed ones those who were secure in both their worldly status and their religious position, the ones who could look down on the rest and say, “Lord, I thank you that I am not as ... these”? Had He turned things upside down?
“Blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted.”
No, that couldn’t be right. It was like saying, ‘happy are the unhappy’. And what sort of mourning did He mean? There were so many things one could mourn for in this world, from bereavement, to one’s own broken sinfulness. What did He mean?
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
At least that was somewhere in the Psalms. But look, there march the Roman soldiers in their glittering panoply, there stand the Pharisees displaying their piety on the street corners. There wasn’t much room left for the meek, for those who refused to grab for whatever power they could hold onto.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”
This made a little more sense, but still ... where did it leave those who were already full of righteousness, the perfect keepers of the Law? Why wouldn’t they come first when they tried so hard to be holy? They did not whisper to each other, for they did not wish to miss a word He said, but the thoughts were buzzing in their heads. Some were beginning to see a pattern, an undergirding truth, if an unsettling one; others were still completely in the dark.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
They could nod their heads at this; it was certainly a beautiful thought. Most people think that mercy is a good idea until they’re the ones that have to give it. But again, it would be an upside down world when that actually took place!
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
That was a tricky one, who was pure in heart? Even Moses was only allowed to see God’s back, and how could they compare themselves to him? No one except the blessed angels was holy enough to behold the Lord!
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
Who were the peacemakers then, in a world that always seemed to be at war? And yet, He was saying that those who could make peace were the sons of God, the God-like ones. How did anyone make peace in a world where defeat and attrition were always knocking at the door? What did peace that lasted beyond this day’s sunshine and bread enough for this day’s belly even look like?
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“That may well be so”, muttered one man, unable to restrain himself any longer, “for ‘tis certain they’ll have no kingdom in this world!”