Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about the part of the Gospel of Matthew we know as the Sermon on the Mount. That makes sense, there’s a lot there and it’s long, very long. But I’ve been hammering away a bit at the first part, in particular, and a particular view of the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, something we also gave a special name to: the Beatitudes.
Maybe that’s what got me started down this road. Special names can give things special recognition because we think they’re special, but they can sometimes set things apart. They can also collect important things under one title in a way that makes us see the title as more important than what it actually says. Like the Bible, for example.
I think that can also steer us into thinking that Jesus isn’t addressing anyone in particular. Even when Jesus is addressing a crowd, his disciples or a single person, when we study and talk about what Jesus is saying, we can label it, try and understand it and find meaning and yes, maybe it speaks to us, but it’s still something we can hold “out there.” Even when we talk about being written on the heart, we seem to be still trying to connect with something that wasn’t said to us, but to people in a different place and time.
But it isn’t. It’s for us, now, just as we are.
Look, I’ve said (don’t stop me if you’ve heard this before) that I think Jesus looked at the crowd that day and he saw what he so often saw in the crowds that came to see him. He saw people who were hurt and broken, grieving, struggling with the world around them, trying to live what he was teaching and being frustrated by a world that seemed cruel and oppressive. They were looking for healing and hope. So he began by telling them they’re blessed. Right from the start, just as they are, right where they found themselves in that moment. You are blessed, he said. That’s where to start.
But Jesus isn’t just talking about “those people,” nor is he is he talking about “a different time” or generalizing about a “nice idea.” He’s talking to you and me, both to our community and to our individual experience. This is personal.
Look around you. The crowd Jesus addresses is all of us. We’re all addressed here: today we may be among the poor (in spirit and wealth) or the grieving, we may be among the patient and enduring or the lost and seeking, we may be among the doubtful or committed, the oppressed or struggling. We might find ourselves experiencing those moments any day, in any place.
Today, I see the poor in spirit and the grieving everywhere I look. And that includes the mirror. We’re still struggling to come out of an experience of fear, anxiety, isolation and grief that many haven’t known before. We’re struggling with loss and overwhelming social circumstances. We’re struggling with conflict, with learning about past wrongs that ask for responsibility and healing. We’re struggling with how to be open and vulnerable in a world that seems to demand a different kind of strength.
To all of us, Jesus reminds us of the hope that resides in the worth of our being, that there is love and strength in simply knowing we are.