It is but a few short verses before this in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus encapsulates his message in one urgent phrase: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!” (Matthew 4:17)
Indeed, with that as a backdrop, I find myself wondering if the start of his sermon here is actually a road map laden with signs so that we will recognize the reign of God when we encounter it. I wondered what it would look like if I carried these words with me through a day or two or more and consciously looked for signs of the nearness of God’s reign through the lens of these familiar words.
- Might I see those who are, in fact, ‘poor in spirit,’ or those who mourn or the meek or those hungering and thirsting for righteousness?
- Might I be able to bear witness to acts of mercy, purity of heart, and those doing all they can to actually make peace?
- Indeed, might I catch a glimpse of what it is to be persecuted for the sake of Jesus?
And so, with Jesus’ teaching as a guide, I decided to venture out with fresh eyes. This is what I encountered:
I listened to a woman whose voice broke as she prayed for a friend who was suffering far from home…
“Blessed are those who mourn…”
I heard another speak of patience needed in waiting for seeds of mission to take root and grow in a congregation which is relatively new to her…
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”
I stood by and watched the director of our local homeless shelter give her full attention to a young man who towered over her. He said he was working on his self esteem. She stood still and said to him, “You LOOK happy…”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”
“Blessed are the merciful…”
I shared a meal with a woman who has given her life to fighting for racial justice and who has suffered the consequences of following this call in the form of estrangement from loved ones, disdain from neighbors and co-workers, and death threats from strangers…
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…”
I listened to one whose father ‘forced him to attend’ the March on Washington in 1963 as he recounted listening to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Dream” through the eyes and ears of a then seventeen year old boy . And oh, I heard him speak of how far we have come and how far we have yet to go…
“Blessed are the peacemakers…”
I thanked a child who got up early and made chocolate chip muffins from scratch as a gift to guests who would gather at the local Islamic Center — the center of her faith community —for a day of learning about hospitality — and I saw her eyes light up with joy…
“Blessed are the pure in heart…”
And these are just what I have witnessed since Wednesday.
And so I wonder now…
- What do you think? Can the beatitudes serve as a road map for recognizing the nearness of the Reign of God?
- If so, where have you seen similar signs of the nearness of God’s Reign in these last days?
- If you but hone your eyes and ears and heart to recognize it, where might you encounter God’s reign in the days to come?
Of course just recognizing it doesn’t answer the question of how these unlikely experiences actually are blessings, but it is a start. At the very least, it seems to me, as we begin by encountering them, perhaps our understanding of the truth of their parodoxes will deepen in us as well. What do you think?