The Beatitudes are often described as promises. True as far as it goes. But they are not promises without strings attached, quite far reaching strings. In each of them there is an assumption of God at work. And God isn't into reinforcing our comfort zones, approving our complacencies, defending our interests or preserving our standard of living. In fact the Beatitudes are an invitation, a dare even, for us to look at the world, ourselves, other people and God, through a different lense.
The Kingdom of God is not like any other kingdom; the culture of the Kingdom of God is counter cultural to all other transient and timebound expressions of human shared activity, work and creativity. The Beatitudes are revolutionary statements of God's intent. The Beatitudes are a checklist of resistance to dominant cultures that diminish human flourishing through the power plays of injustice.
There is a temptation to hear the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus' manifesto of the Kingdom of God, but with our backs turned on that other mount on which Jesus was crucified. The Beatitudes were precisely the kind of teaching that, to the powerful, merited silencing by force and contradiction by crucifixion. Lived faithfully, the Beatitudes are an invitation to follow Jesus from one hillside to another, from Galilee to Calvary.
The world watched, and heard, as the Beatitudes were read on Capitol Hill in Washingtoin at the inauguration of the 45th President. They were then rubbished by the content of the inaugural speech. The clash of cultural values was classic theatre, lacking only the voice of the child telling the blindingly obvious alternative truth that the President wasn't properly dressed for the occasion.
My friend Simon Woodman is one of the ministers at Bloomsbury Baptist Church. He has written the following glosses on the Beatitudes. Such writing articulates the serious collisons between the love of power and the power of love. Yes that is a cliche, but sometimes it takes one cliche to trump another cliche. We now look at a global future in which such collisions are inevitable. Followers of the crucified Lord have a long tradition of resistance through revolutionary love, bridge-building hope, perseverance in peace, and joy in trumping injustice.
Blessed are those who refuse the lie that one life is worth more than any other,
for theirs is the future of humanity.
Blessed are those who have stared long into the abyss,
for theirs is honesty beyond grief.
Blessed are those who resist retaliation,
for the earth will never be won by force.
Blessed are those who would rather die for truth than live with compromise,
for the truth will outlive all lies.
Blessed are those who forgive the unforgivable,
for they have seen the darkness of their own souls.
Blessed are those who know themselves truly,
for they have seen themselves as God sees them.
Blessed are those who are provocatively nonviolent,
for they are following the path of the son of God.
Blessed are those who choose to receive violence but not to give it,
for the future is born out of such choices.
Blessed are you when you stand up for truth
and hell itself decides to try and destroy you.
You're not the first and you won't be the last.
I'm telling you now, nothing makes any sense unless you learn see it differently,
and then choose to live that alternative into being.
And here are the originals
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
for they will be called children of God.
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.