Blest Are They

Composer David Haas wrote a song based on the Beatitudes called “Blessed Are They.” It’s a beautiful song, but it also feels a bit off-putting:

Blest are they, the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of God. Blest are they, full of sorrow; they shall be consoled.
Refrain: Rejoice, and be glad! Blessed are you, holy are you! Rejoice and be glad! Yours is the kingdom of God! 2

It seems almost blasphemous to tell someone who is dealing with grinding poverty that the kingdom of God belongs to them.  It seems off kilter to talk about rejoicing when all you want to do is cry. Looked at in one way, it might seem that Jesus is just passing off some nice bromides that don’t really appreciate the situation.

But that's not what's happening here. Jesus is paying attention to what is going on. Jesus is paying attention to the people.  Jesus is not making light of the situations people find themselves in.  Jesus is telling the people “I know that being poor is a struggle. I know how hard it is to get food on the table.  But know that you are part of God’s kingdom and God has not forgotten you. You matter to me and to God.”

Such words might not change the situation, but it can change the heart.  What the poor woman trying to make ends meet, the young gay man kicked out of his house by his parents, the homeless man on the street struggling with addiction, the middle age man who just lost his job at the factory all need to hear is that they are loved unconditionally by God.  They can only hear that through people who show them the love and awesome mercy of God.

The call to the “losers” in life is not simply nice words. In the words and deeds of Jesus’ disciples, those words can bring hope and love into lives where there has been little of either.

As I'm writing this, it looks like the government shutdown that has endured for 35 days is over. Federal workers can get back to work. But those workers went through a lot. They loss over a month's wages, having to plead with landlords and bankers to give them more time. Not being able to put food on the table, not being able to work, can make you feel like less than nothing. Telling someone in that situation that they matter that God sees them can mean the world to them. Just before this shutdown ended a woman who was a TSA agent at the Minneapolis airport was given a sandwich by a local charity. She look at the sandwich and began to cry, wanting to get back to work and also thankful for the sandwich. She is blessed.

Blest are they. God's message of salvation, the message we are called to share, is one that says God loves the losers not the ones who are all about winning. In our evangelism telling the good news to neighbors and friends, we tell those who might think life is terrible that they are blessed by God. It is in our works of charity and justice that we tell the homeless and the poor that they are blessed by God.

At the end of the day, the Beatitudes are not simply nice words, but they can be a call to herald God's salvation and justice in our world. It means that when we as children of God go through trials and tribulations we are called to rejoice, because God's kingdom belongs to us, to you and me.

Theologian Karoline Lewis reminds us:

The Beatitudes are a call to action to be church, a call to action to make Jesus present and visible and manifest when the world tries desperately to silence those who speak the truth. “There was a time when the church was very powerful -- in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society... If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning..." (Martin Luther King Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail”).
The Beatitudes are a call to action for the sake of creating the world God imagines. And these days, we need this reminder -- when our imagination may be limited. When our hope for the future might have been dimmed. When we think what we do and what we say and what we believe does not matter.

“Rejoice and be glad!  Your’s is the kingdom of God!” Blest are you. And you.


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