“Blessed are ….” (The Beatitudes, Matt 5:3-12)
Dear Redeemer Family:
On November 5, All Saints’ Sunday, the gospel comes in eight “Beatitudes,” or eight statements that proclaim commandingly, no holds barred, what life in the kingdom of God is and is to be like. “Blessed are …,” we hear: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. This is no “pie in the sky by and by” theology. Jesus doesn’t say “Blessed were,” “Blessed will be,” or “Blessed should be.” No, these almost hardnosed blessings make no mistake about saying that blessing comes in the present moment, however complicated and compromised that moment might be.
In the other gospel readings for the month, Jesus speaks in parables, again, through them, giving pictures of the kingdom. The kingdom of God is like a bridesmaid. Some of the bridesmaids are prepared to wait for the groom even long through the night; other miss him altogether because they aren’t prepared. We wait for Jesus, no doubt about it, but that waiting implies taking action now, in this day, this very day, even when our efforts seem futile, maybe misguided.
The kingdom of God, too, is like a man who gives out talents to his slaves, each according to their ability, in the promise that as they sow their gifts, their talents will prosper. The first two slaves make good on the money, investing it well. The third hides it in the sand, afraid of what might come of it, fearful of making any lasting decisions with it. The last one is judged, not the first two. God doesn’t care about any sort of worry about justice coming our way, one commendation and then more for each talent used. God wants us to remain present in the day, giving whatever we have been given to give, unhindered by thoughts of where it’s all going or what’s going to come of it. Generosity with ourselves, not fear, is to be the word of the day, regardless of how it looks like things are shaping up around us.
And a last sort of parable, on Christ the King Sunday: Jesus tells a story about a king who separates the “sheep” from the “goats” on the last day. But it is not the last day that has the emphasis, only the present. Those who ignored the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned have missed the nature of the kingdom altogether, and even missed the king himself when he came in the present, through those who suffer. But those who tend to the hungry, thirst, and sick now, in this day, without thought for any sort of future glory through their actions, are the ones who see the king now, right now, right before them. They don’t even really need to wait for that future day when he comes to separate the flock. In their care for those who experience life as a burden, who have nothing to offer to life but their pain, they have seen the king, truly, already, in all of his glory. Christ the king comes in the now, not so much when life is pulling together, one happy thread after another, as when it is unraveling. But he is always there with us, protecting and guiding his flock.