Today is the fourth Sunday after Epiphany and the Gospel Lesson is a familiar passage, not only to Christians, but to many others. Matthew 5:1-12, commonly called The Beatitudes, is the initial portion of the Sermon on the Mount. Rather than an exhortation to take on certain qualities, I hear Jesus recognizing qualities and needs that are already present in his listeners.
So Jesus sits on a hillside where anyone and everyone could belong and he is surrounded by a crowd. They wanted to be there to hear what Jesus had to say. But I suspect there was the sneaking suspicion that they felt they didn't belong near this man of God. The Pharisees insisted that God's favor was given only to those who obeyed God's law, but here was a whole crowd who didn't measure up. There was the businessman, living in a dog‑eat‑dog world, who has lost friends but made money. There is the young couple who couldn't resist each other sexually and were worried about someone finding out. There was the woman scared of dying. There was the one who couldn't help passing along the latest gossip. They want to be there to listen to Jesus, but if anyone finds out who they really are and their weaknesses, they don't know if they'll hear humiliating laughter or screams of scorn.
I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases this portion: "You're blessed when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you, You're blessed when you're content with just who you are--no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought." The passage continues, including
There are those who long to do right, they're going to do it.
There are those who banish feelings of revenge and ill will, they will be forgiven themselves.
There are those who have integrity within, they will see God everywhere.
There are those who work for peace, they are God's sons and daughters.
And to everyone of you‑‑‑God bless you.
Do you hear how I believe Jesus personalized these Beatitudes and included all who were gathered on the hillside, whatever their need, whatever their hope? Here, where they thought they didn't belong, with just a few words Jesus included them all in the Kingdom. This is what it is all about. Jesus took what was true in their lives and turned it into blessing and the source of happiness. It is not just a matter of sappy, shallow happiness. It is not about becoming something different so that you will belong to God. Happiness comes from God's blessing upon us, not by our actions. The blessing of God is not earned. It is a gift, a wonderful, undeserved gift. It is like a kiss, given ‑‑because of who you are, in spite of doubts and fears, with the faint awareness that you are okay after all. God pronounces his blessing upon who we are‑‑on the God‑shaped‑ness of our lives, where we have been kissed by that sense of wonder and awe.