What we have in the Beatitudes is Jesus’ expression of who the people are who will welcome God’s reign in their hearts and in their midst.
“All are called to be what in the reality of God they are already” – Bonhoeffer
It’s important to understand that Jesus says nothing new, but renews what has been said by saying it differently.
This is the law of Moses presented in spirit and truth.
This is the identity of the people of faith presented in refreshingly new language.
The law of God was and is and will always be interpreted by humans
And the point of the prophets is always to renew by the Spirit how we understand the letters.
The Spirit breaks into our systems and letters and words and shakes them up.
The prophet is not opposed to the law,
The prophet is opposed to the legalist.
The one who makes the law’s interpretation static and resists reevaluation
Truth is not private property.
Truth is a gift to all and shared by all.
Truth for some is like studying insects pinned and labeled, studying in a lab, in a museum.
Truth for others is running and jumping after butterflies
I was reminded recently of Walt Whitman’s words:
WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
I don’t think books and systems and museums and charts and catechisms and theologies and encyclopedias are pointless.
I wouldn’t be in graduate school if that were true of me.
But I think we are put into a dangerous temptation when we make encyclopedic knowledge the point and miss altogether the point of religion.
“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?” (Micah 6:8)
We don’t need to abolish law and system and organized thought.
But woe to the community that holds the letter without the spirit.
And that’s what I think Jesus’s sermon is all about.
He says some crazy things like, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
And some might share that quote from Jesus and say – see?
Jesus wants us to measure up .
Jesus is calling us to be perfect people – to have all our ducks in a row.
And I disagree.
For righteousness to exceed the Pharisees is not to play better at their same game of defining religion and practicing it perfectly, with the inevitable result that those who don’t measure up are excluded even if not intentionally
For righteousness to exceed the Pharisees is for us to not so tightly hold our doctrines and ways of being good that love is stifled, mercy neglected, justice sidelined.
And I think that’s one of the great gifts of Jesus beginning his teaching with a picture of the blessed.
This picture is out of place on Madison Avenue.
This picture is not one that we find idealized in movies and TV
In fashion magazines, whole page advertisements,
Super bowl pregame, half-time, present-game, and post-game commentary commercial or concert
You don’t find the beatific beats described in Jesus’ sermon
In the best-foot-forward expressions of religious or secular culture.
What Jesus shows us is that it is in the cracks of the pavement that the grass can grow and new life can come.
Those who have nothing to lose or those who have nothing to prove are those who can be fully open to the renewing work of God in their lives and their world.
Those who are with it, for whom everything is going great,
Cannot sing with the late Pete Seeger,
“We shall overcome,”
because they truly do not want anything to be overcome
Jesus is calling us to the prophetic way which has always renewed the law of every generation.
Not abolished the law, but fulfilled it.
And for us to inhabit the prophetic way, to be open to God’s initiative
Is for us to be neither dogmatic conservative, holding to what has been said,
Nor to be dogmatic progressive – forgetting the past for the future and change and new.
We must embrace the God who is eternally present and who is Spirit calling each one of us forward to the Beauty ever ancient ever new — the reign of God
The grass growing through the pavement cracks.
And so we can’t read the Beatitudes as a call to be a certain way – as if we are all only going to be doing spirituality right if we’re mourning, discouraged, hungry-thirsty, persecuted.
But those who find themselves in those marginal places in society.
They are blessed because they are able to see from the perspective of the grass and not from the perspective of the pavement. They are able to welcome the new life breaking into the old, because they long for it like they long for their own healing and comfort.