This week’s gospel text offers us Luke’s version of the Beatitudes (Also known as the list of “the more trouble you’re experiencing in your life the more that God will be trying to also bless you”) As with many well-known, or at least often-heard scripture texts, it can be easy for us as the reader or hearer to catch the beginning and then semi-tune out because our brains tell us we already know where this is going.
Only I wonder what happens if we approach familiar scripture texts not with foregone conclusions in our brains, but more like the way in which we might watch someone like Andrew Chen, the Olympian figure skater. With Andrew Chen this year, as he kept performing so extraordinarily well on the ice, it began to seem like a foregone conclusion that he would win the gold medal. Yet I don’t think this made anyone who was watching Andrew Chen perform tune out, or only pay half-attention. Instead, we leaned in, as we didn’t want to miss a moment, a turn on the ice, a choice of music or facial expression. What if we approached this story of Jesus and the Beatitudes, and other stories from scripture with such rapt and riveted attention? There’s so much to be seen, observed, mulled over and appreciated!
So, here in this scripture text, Jesus offers a mighty list of blessings, but notice the context in which Jesus does it, the music playing in the background, the crowds gathered around there in the flat place where they had traveled to? We hear, just prior to Jesus’ proclamation of blessings known as the Beatitudes, that Jesus had been healing people of their diseases and casting out unclean spirits. Large multitudes of people were gathered with the disciples around Jesus and everyone was trying to touch him because, and here I quote, “power was coming out of him.”
And if we jump back just verses before this in Luke, we hear that Jesus and his disciples had gotten into a confrontation with some of the Pharisees, first for gathering grain to feed their hunger on the sabbath, and then because Jesus healed a man’s withered hand, again on the sabbath. And before this Jesus healed a man with leprosy and made a paralyzed person walk again and invited a hated tax collector (tax collectors in that time were known to be taking extra money for themselves and selling out to the Romans); a hated tax collector to dinner.
And we could keep going with this background list (and I hope you will, driven now by curiosity to your bibles:-) but the point is that by the time we get to the Beatitudes the crowds following Jesus have been stirred up into a great fervor. Healing after healing, interspersed with Jesus helping people to see scripture reframed to assist and enliven the lives of people as it was intended. And there is power in this Jesus like nothing anyone has ever seen, it flows out from him to all around.
Were the crowds about to overwhelm Jesus in that frenzied moment, like the crowds in pre-pandemic days that needed to be managed and kept away from overwhelming star Olympic athletes? Oh, if I could only get myself this or that Olympian’s autograph, or touch their arm or have them say my name. Oh, oh…
Listen - I am not suggesting Jesus is like an Olympian - even the very best Olympian there has ever been would be nothing compared to Jesus. I am only trying to help draw us a picture of what it must have felt like for the people around him, for those crowds, maybe even what it felt like for Jesus.
The crowds are pressing about, the disciples close by and as they come to a level place did Jesus, swept about not only by the tide of the crowd but by the impetus of the divine grace that both directed him and that inhabited, suffused his earthly body with heavenly presence, human and divine both inexplicably bound together and fully present in Jesus; did Jesus suddenly throw out his arms (we don’t know), throw back his head (we don’t know), and cry out:
Blessed are you who are poor - God’s kingdom and all of its promises belong to you in a very special way.
Blessed are you who are hungry now - I promise that God will not always allow hunger to exist and you and all who suffer want right now will be taken care of.
Blessed are you who mourn - do you have tears and broken hearts and a longing for people and things that are no longer? Do you know disappointment and sadness and fear and loneliness? I promise you that there will come a time of rejoicing and laughter.
…By this point I wonder if the crowd pressing in on Jesus had backed off just a bit. I wonder if Jesus found himself with a little more room and folks listening closely - maybe passing what Jesus was saying along in the crowd to those further off who might not be hearing it firsthand.
Maybe Jesus, who is speaking to the crowd but also, we hear, who is speaking to the disciples; maybe Jesus looks around at the disciples, in their eyes as he says, perhaps in a bit more subdued but no less intense way:
Blessed are you when people revile you - dislike or even hate you - for my name’s sake. Blessed are you when you share the story of God’s kingdom come near with love and observe sabbath as they are intended - to heal and feed people, when people in need of healing and feeding gather around.
In other words, take courage dear disciples! This world’s troubles are being met by Jesus who has come down to be the Savior in residence extraordinaire. And we don’t want to miss a moment of how Jesus is seeking to live among us, seeking to bring blessings through us. And how might be these blessings be brought through us?
Buildings thrown open wide for Community Partners like the pop-up Narcan training that is happening this coming Wednesday – a training to teach people how to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose and administer the opioid overdose reversal drug Naloxone. Car trunks thrown open wide this afternoon to gather food for distribution through FAMILY of New Paltz. Valentines crafted by Sunday School kids for shut ins and the eldest among us. Hearts thrown open wide and striving to bear Jesus to everyone we meet so that people who meet us will witness in us - amidst our human frailties and failings - the power of the love and light of Jesus shining forth. And they, too, will know that they are blessed. Amen.