If you or I were to compose a list of Beatitudes, I wonder whether we would have gone for the sort of mixed bag that Jesus chooses, especially when we know that some Bible translations translate the word Blessed as Happy?
Yes, there are some easy crowd pleasers here: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled…
but even they are not without their edginess.
If you are in mourning, comfort is likely to seem a very long way away, if not impossible.
And it’s not always helpful to be told you will be filled with the righteousness of God, when your current experience is of the absence of the experience of that righteousness; of starving for God.
And then there are the downright perverse beatitudes: Blessed are those who are persecuted and who are reviled, and who are falsely accused on my account…
Why are they the touchstones of the assurance of blessing?
No, in my hands, or in yours, it’s very likely we would have come up with a very different list.
But we are not in my hands, or in yours. We are in Christ’s hands.
And his word, is a word for every season; for springtime, but also in the October gales, and in deep midwinter.
The assurance that, if we have the eyes to see, God is present with us in all things.
This is not only an assurance, but an inspiration; to enable us to endure and to overcome.
Which is not to say we cannot question God, or bring our complaint before God when we or others suffer, are reviled, are persecuted. There is a clear Biblical tradition for contending with God and bringing our complaint.
But Jesus, who walked the path of rejection and suffering, and even death, points the way to re-visualise our experience; to see things differently – through the eyes of faith and hope.
The Beatitudes are, as they appear to say, an attitude of being, in good times and in bad.
And perhaps, as Jesus sees the crowds and calls the disciples to himself on the mountain, to teach the Beatitudes, we are meant to notice something else. His teaching is outward, beyond the disciples; the community of faith, to those outside. Jesus sees in the crowds the potential of faith, courage, compassion, the indomitable spirit, where the disciples so often see troublesome mothers, who need to be kept from Jesus, blind men who need to be silenced, and crowds who need to be sent away so that they’re not a burden. Only the last beatitude is directed specifically to the disciples; a reminder perhaps that their task is to take this teaching out; not just to be a people of faith, but to grow a people of faith, and in the process to discover that God is already there ahead of them – of us – waiting.