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I spoke at the Commons last week.  I was given the task of reflecting on Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount.  We began by reading Matthew 5 aloud and then watched a video from Peter Rollin’s Insurrection Tour, which was used to launch a discussion on faith and certainty. After the discussion time, I shared the following reflection.

Message: “Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light.”

Set the Stage: Jesus has just come out of the wilderness after forty days of fasting, he has called his first disciples and began healing and preaching. Large crowds are beginning to following him.

New Prophet: Matthew sets the scene of the Beatitudes on a hillside or mountain, echoes of Moses and Mt. Sinai ring in his first century Jewish readers ears. Matthew is paralleling this new prophet to the ones of old. Jesus was not the first to speak to great crowds. In Jewish tradition, Rabbis would gather their disciples to teach and to interpret the law, just as Moses had done. By setting the scene on a hillside, Matthew is suggesting that Jesus has the authority to interpret God’s laws for His people.

Reimagine: What were those crowds thinking as they gathered? What were the first disciples thinking when they abandoned their fishing nets to follow a stranger? Perhaps the crowds gathered for the same reason we gather here on Sundays. Seeking community, and a connection with something greater than themselves. Longing for hope and healing. Embracing the mystery of this new prophet and healer, the one they will call Messiah.

Politics: Would this Jesus bring with him the power and authority prophesied in scripture? Would he free the Jews from Roman oppression? Some of the Jews believed the coming Messiah would bring political freedom, a revolution (possibly even violent) that would return the Jewish people to the prosperity and glory they experienced during King David’s reign.

The Shocking Opener: Rather than teaching a message of revolution against the Roman empire, rather than interpreting the Law as other rabbis had in the past, Jesus shocks the audience. His introductory words, what we call the Beatitudes, are a deliberate reversal of standard first century Jewish values. Politics, culture and religion in His time were based on wealth, influence and power. Instead Jesus points to the meek, the broken, the dirty and downtrodden, the poor and hungry and lonely and lost. The reality of how jolting these words would have been to their first listeners is lost on us, because most of us have heard them time and time again.

The Unblessable: Jesus calls blessed those thought by his contemporaries to be unblessable, those whose status, circumstances or physical condition would suggest to others that God had not favoured them. God comes to those who are marginalized by society, those who are pushed to the sidelines, to the city limits, away from places of influence and power. Rather than proclaiming a political revolution against the Romans, he blesses the peacemakers and the oppressed.

Shock Today: What would shock us today? Do we too live in a time when politics, culture and religion are based on wealth, influence and power? What values do we as a society, and as the Church, hold today that, if Jesus walked into the room, would be flipped over? What would His words be to a culture that values self-sufficiency, individualism, and saving money for the future? To a culture that pays the highest salaries to celebrities and sports stars? To a culture that creates suburbs of homogeneity, surrounding ourselves with people who think and act and speak exactly like us because it makes us feel safer?

Impossible Standard: It is easy to read these scriptures and see nothing but a list of rules, a standard of impossible living. “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly father is perfect.” How many of us have felt anger rise within us? Made a promise we haven’t kept? Found it difficult to love an enemy? Jesus says he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. All 613 Jewish laws laid out in the Torah. Why does God expect so gosh darn much of us, so much more than we are capable of? How are we to live by these standards? How can any of us hope for salvation?

Shift: I think the answer is in a shift of perspective. Growing up I assumed that God was watching me with his checklist of rules and every time I made a mistake he would mark it off and it would be added to the sum total of the sins that I had to repent for. My faith was driven by guilt and fear. Yet this doesn’t seem to line up with the message of the gospel, that God is love and that Jesus came not to condemn us but to save us.

Good Life: Rather than seeing this passage as a demand that I follow a list of rules, I see it as the possibility for a good life, a plan for a life that will bring me the things I most desire: love, hope, peace. My life is actually more enjoyable when I can find the grace to forgive someone who has wronged me, when I can love someone who challenges me, when I give something without expecting something in return. It is in embracing wholehearted living that I find the community, peace and hope that I long for.

Dr. Ellen Clark-King puts it this way:

“The beauty lies in the new picture that is being drawn of what it means to be human, of what a human being choosing life looks like. We are being told that what matters about us is not just what we do, but who we are. It’s not enough just to avoid killing, we must also avoid a habit of mind that dismisses others as of no consequence. It is not enough that we avoid adultery, we must also avoid a habit of mind that objectifies the object of our desire. It is not enough to swear truly, we must become people whose every word is trustworthy and true. We are to become more beautiful, more like God, in our inner habits of mind so that our actions become naturally more gentle, wise and loving.”

Purity: The influential religious people of Jesus’ day appeared pure on the surface, pure in action, but Jesus asks us to be pure in heart. He calls us to more than following rules or behaving in socially and religiously acceptable ways. It puts Jesus at the center of everything. Living as He lived. Not by following rules, or good ethics, but embodying His spirit. It is in Christ that we find life in this moment, right now.  The prophet Micah sums it up with this: “What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Fail: Of course, this is not easy. We fail. Dr. Ellen Clark-King continues, “day after day in big ways and small we fail. It matters because our failures are often a source of pain to others, and all human pain matters to God. In fact acknowledging and accepting our failure is a crucial part of our Christian journey – as well as a crucial part of our growth into mature human beings. The path to life abundant, the choice for blessing rather than curse, lies in our willingness to open out human fallibility to the transformative grace of God. We can use these commandments as a rod to beat ourselves with, in which case we will be choosing death not life. Or we can use them as a key to unlock the darker places of our hearts and to let God’s light shine in with forgiveness and hope. There is life in these hard words of scripture, the transformative life of God’s Spirit breathing into our places of failure and enabling us to love more deeply.”

Broken: The truth is we are all broken. Cracked. At times downtrodden, lonely, mourning. We try to cover it up, to have the appearance of having it all together. Society hands us every kind of mask so that we can hide what exists on the inside. We long for something, someone to offer us hope. And Christ not only acknowledges that brokenness, he blesses it.

Ache: We hunger and thirst for righteousness. I love this line. Not because I always make the right decisions, not because I always live righteously. I feel the ache within me when I see the brokenness that I have caused in another’s life. When I see injustices in our world. We are spiritually hungry for something to fulfill us. We chase elusive dreams of wealth, power, entertainment and pleasure – something to satisfy that empty ache, because inside we all know that something is not right – when tsunamis and earthquakes decimate our global neighbours, when children starve in one part of the world and obesity rates soar in another, when a woman is murdered in downtown Hamilton.

Lament: Jesus offers us a place for that ache. Validates it. Suggests that it is necessary, even healthy to mourn. This is why there is a heartfelt need for healthy ways to lament. We see examples throughout scripture, in the writings of Jeremiah, Job and the Psalms. God asks for us to express that ache. Not cover it up. Not drown it out or push it aside. To say life gets messy and sometimes we don’t know the way forward. To express our doubts and uncertainties, rather than negate the mystery of faith. It is in hungering and thirsting, in acknowledging our brokenness, and embracing mystery, that we let in the light.

Concluding Questions: Where in my life do I need to challenge the religious, cultural and political values of my society? How do I identify my enemies and love them? Who are the marginalized in my life, who do I push to the sidelines because their differences make me uncomfortable or afraid? How do we create a community that embraces mystery, even nurturing it? And, ultimately, how do we pursue a relationship with God without immediate answers to the questions that drive our doubt?

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