Preparing to teach the Beatitudes, I am trying to live my way into their truth by carrying them around on 3×5 cards and struggling to understand a Kingdom in which:
- You’re blessed if you are poor in spirit.
- You’re blessed if you are mourning over your sin.
- You’re blessed if you are meek or “content with just who you are.”
- You’re blessed if you are hungering for righteousness.
The last four Beatitudes in the list are so much more inspiring. After all, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted might just make it into the evening news or be offered a book deal. But those first four . . . I kind of like to keep my moments of spiritual bankruptcy to myself, thanks; and I’d really rather be seen as someone who has her identify issues and her sin all under control.
This image of weakness — of need and hungering — is offensive to me, but then, that’s what got Jesus betrayed by one of His disciples and hung on a cross. Although the Twelve squandered precious moments of their last days with Jesus squabbling over who would get the corner office, Jesus demonstrated no interest in the trappings of power.
A God who valued power over all else would not choose to identify Himself with a tiny nation of tent-dwellers. He would not take on the space-and-time limitations of a body and then show up in the midst of an era of oppression, taxation, and poverty.
He would not “see the crowds,” then “sit down and open his mouth,” with the kind of power-bashing, establishment-alienating statements that we read in His Sermon on the Mount. In fact, just reading the Beatitudes can be hazardous, because I’m looking at the Christians I know. Most of all, I’m looking in the mirror and I’m realizing that all of us love power and everything that goes with it more than we love dealing with our sin or hungering for more of God. I hold in my heart a set of hellish Beatitudes that have nothing to do with Christ’s kingdom:
Blessed are you if your voice is heard in committee meetings, for then you shall have the last word.
Blessed are you if your ideas are recognized and see the light of day, for then you shall receive the credit.
Blessed are you if you are able to make meaningful choices, and if people respect your time, your boundaries, and your position, for then you shall experience no inconvenience in this life, and your heart may remain private and small.
Blessed are you if you are known, if you are read, if you are heard, and above all, if you are appreciated, for then you shall point to your resume and feel validated.
Jesus let go of all this.
His servant, the Apostle Paul, was also cautious about the trappings of power. In his letter to the Gentile believers in Thessalonica, he reminisced about his days with them. No glory-seeking, no cushy expense account, no apostolic privileges. He worked with his hands to earn a living, and then ministered the gospel among them, “just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.” Now, there’s a metaphor for self-emptying service.
The currency that Paul valued, and that he spent with all his heart, was the power of godly influence, of building up a body of believers who could persevere in their faith through hard times.
Plowing into my fifties, this is the power that I need to fuel my actions as well, for though I pack my days full, the question always hangs in the air:
Can I prove, at the end of a day, that I have value, that I have not become obsolete?
We have a pretty way of measuring “relevance” in our culture, and a pretty way of disregarding those we deem “irrelevant.” With the “key demo” for media advertising spanning the ages 18-49, can I find courage to ignore the relevance clock and fill my life with people who don’t make that cut? I want to be reminded every day of the power of wisdom that resides within a graying head. I need to hear the truth that Jesus’ kingdom-demo is set up to be kid-friendly.
Pondering that kingdom with the help of my 3×5 cards, I am absorbing a value system that edges me toward a different world. As I read and write, as I make lists and perform the duties of “the keeper at home,” some days I wonder: How did my hands, my brain, and my calendar get so full? Wistfully, I speculate:
Is there something here that I can I let go of?
Jesus let go of power to gain freedom and life for the world.
Do I let go of freedom and life in order to gain power?
God, form my priorities and values around Truth. Teach me the precious power of vulnerability, of need, and of the still heart that has learned to say “enough.”