We are marvellously bogged down. We were making good progress in our study of Matthew and have come to a construction zone. We were zooming along the highway of the Gospel. We were slowed a bit during the Temptations like tourists we slowed to take in the scenery but traffic ground to a snail’s pace as we entered chapter 5.
We were suddenly confronted with a dense patch of ‘red letters’. At first glance it looked like poetry, and it is, but it is much more. The ‘red sea’ of letters brought our cruise through scripture to a near standstill. How many times had we read this passage? How many “Beatitude’ bookmarks have we seen? This dense passage is at once, familiar and foreign!
As members of the Kingdom and as followers of the King we knew we had to pay closer attention to his words. Here in the familiar scenery of the oft visited ‘Sermon on the Mount’ lay: the practical, the ethical, and deeply theological teaching of Jesus.
We have all probably had the experience of showing guests the sights around our home community. We are used to these sights but when we see them afresh in our friends’ eyes we appreciate them anew. I have this experience regularly when friends marvel at the rugged coastline and the enormous tides of my home area. I see this every day and often remark “The tide is high right now.” Or “Look at the low tide right now.” After such a comment I may stifle a yawn or adjust my radio. But my friends experience it more deeply and haul me along in their wake. Such was my experience as we began the Beatitudes.
We read verses 3 – 12 in one shot and then began to look at each one. During the conversation it became clear that the attributes or attitudes which are declared as ‘blessed’ are not Pollyanna or pie-in-the-sky, but were perfectly expressed in the life of Jesus. These 10 verse paint as clear a portrait of Jesus as is available to us in scripture! If you want to know what Jesus is like this is the passage to begin with. John writes “We beheld his glory …” Jesus glory is revealed here in these verses. This is not just a prescription for a blessed life, though it is that, it is a description of a blessed life, the life of our Saviour!
We started to ask, “How is this quality expressed in the life of Jesus?” We began at the beginning. Blessed are the poor in spirit though our translation said “God blesses those who depend only on him.” Jesus says “I do nothing except the Father tell me.” As he begins his ministry it is with the anointing and empowering of the Holy Spirit. That wonderful Christological Hymn in Philippians 2 reminds us of the kenotic or self-emptying character of Christ’s life. No one more clearly displays this dependence on the Father! It is his perfect adherence to ‘spiritual poverty’ (not my will but thine) that qualifies him as our Saviour and gives him that name which is blessed beyond all other names.
This dependence, while ideal is also our practical example. As his followers we desire to live as Jesus did. We are to also have this mind which was in Christ Jesus. Of course we often fall short of the ideal but the moment we stop following our Exemplar we necessarily stop being his followers. We cannot at one and the same time follow and not follow him. Either we are followers or we are not. This passage reminds us that when we truly follow Jesus, we will experience blessing.
For many of my friends dependence only on God is easier than it is for me. Life circumstances put them in the precarious position of utter reliance. Mental and physical health, poverty, struggles with addiction all force this dependence to be crucial. I ‘enjoy’ the luxury of the illusion of independence. In this illusion filled world of mine I do not “need thee every hour”. I can coast along with limited dependence concentrated on those times when life throws me a curve. This state of affairs stirs me to a constant vigilance. I need to remind myself of my own poverty and fortunately my friends help me with this my area of great need.