A New Understanding of Jesus' Offensive Beatitudes
Jesus makes me uncomfortable.
I have been reading through the well-rehearsed “Beatitudes” found in the beginning of Matthew 5 and revealed some things about Jesus that left me uneasy. Perhaps you know this portion of your Bible, most people are at least vaguely familiar. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Blessed are the meek,” and so on.
Often, these are verses interpreted to be qualities that we, as followers of Jesus, should be seeking in our own life: to be meek, to be merciful, to be pure in heart. I believe this is missing the point entirely.
Take a moment to look at who Jesus is speaking to in this interaction: the crowds. And what type of people did the crowds following Jesus consist of at this point in his ministry? The broken. The outcasts. The lost. The rejected. The sinners. The hopeless.
No, I am not reading into this. When Jesus is saying “Blessed” is the: poor in spirt, the meek, those who hunger and thirst, the persecuted, he is speaking quite literally to the crowd gathered around him in that moment. This is not a challenge to his followers of who they are to become, but rather an invitation to those who are already there.
Perhaps not to you yet, but consider who would be on your list of “hopeless people” found in the world today? Surely those on Jesus’ list are timeless, but leaning into the heart of Jesus, can we personalize this list even more for those around us? Who would you regard the most unfortunate people around you?
The Rejected Ones
Blessed are the physically repulsive,
Blessed are those who smell bad,
The twisted, misshapen, deformed,
The too big, too small, too loud,
The bald, the fat, the old
For all of them are considered incredible important to Jesus.
The sad truth is, most of us feel trapped in one of these categories (or something similiar). However, there are those among us who find themselves beyond the limits of human accessibility. This is a fact to them, despite how silly it might seem to the rest of us. Jesus doesn’t see them how you and I see them, or even how they see themselves. Jesus gave special attention to those who were outright rejected by the general public by how they looked or what they sounded like.
But then are are the more seriously crushed ones. Those who have been emotionally starved or the truly broken and broke. We can often look at the list above and correct our wrong behavior toward them, but there are certain types of people in the world that we actively walk around. But Jesus offers even those in the worst of circumstances the same promise he gives to you and I.
The Crushed Ones
Blessed are the ones who have been divorced,
Blessed are the ones who are unemployed,
The herpes-ridden, HIV-positive, brain-damaged,
The swindled, the shoved aside, the replaced
For Jesus offers each of them a place in his kingdom.
God is not disturbed by the things that disturb us. Here is where things get offensive. While it might have been easy up to this point to lean into the heart of Jesus and find a way to show favor to the unfavorable, there is a blacklist that should remain untouched in our opinion. There are those who are merely “too far gone.” But despite your opinion or preference, even the moral disasters will be received by God as they come to rely on Jesus, count on him, and bring about his kingdom to the world.
The Immoral Ones
Blessed are the murderers and child-molesters,
Blessed are the drug-cartel and the pornographers,
The terrorist, sadist, criminal,
The perverted, the filthy, the filthy rich,
For Jesus offers them forgiveness that surpasses all understanding.
Dallas Willard calls these sorts of people, “God’s grubby people.” It’s easy, isn’t it? To find yourself in the shoes of the Pharisees as they yapped to Jesus’ disciples, “why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?” Personally, I don’t always want the Kingdom of God to be open to such people. But it is. That is the heart of God. “And, as Jonah learned from his experience preaching to those wretched Ninevites, we can’t shrink him down to our size.”
Jesus paints a portrait of an upside-down world for his followers, and at times it can be very offensive to us. It’s a scene of a new world where a Nazi soldier lovingly takes the hand of the man who he had led to the gas-chamber in the life before; the scene is strictly not of this world and sickening to consider for many of us.
2 Corinthians 5:16-17 - So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!
According to Jesus, it is the people who inhabit the lists above that are the “salt of the earth.” It is not the best and the brightest, nor the most well off. These “little” people, without any character or qualifications humans insists are necessary, are the only ones who can actually make the world better.
Let it sink in;
Let it offend you;
And then find a way to lean into the heart of Jesus.
The Salt of the Earth
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, 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.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
**Thoughts, notes, and quotes taken from Dallas Willards: The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God.