So if you look at what Jesus does to start his ministry in all four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you will get a glimpse of what each Gospel writer is trying to tell us about Jesus.
For example, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus calls his disciples, teaches in a synagogue on the Sabbath, and casts a demon out of a man. Mark teaches us how to confront the demonic in this world. It’s very simple and it’s very difficult. You trust God who has come to us in the cross.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus goes home to Nazareth and teaches in the synagogue. He says, in essence, that this power and goodness of God is not just for us, or for people who are like us, but rather for people over there who might make us feel uncomfortable. It’s also for some people we might consider to be our enemies.
In John, Jesus calls some of his disciples and then goes to a wedding at Cana in Galilee. They run out of wine so Jesus turns these huge stone jars full of water into the best kind of wine. God is full of rich, sweet abundance.
Here in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus calls his disciples, goes up on a mountain just like Moses goes up on a mountain to get the Ten Commandments, the framework for our sense of right and wrong, Jesus goes up on the mountain to provide the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments, the fulfillment of our sense of right and wrong.
That fulfillment turns the world upside down.
First word Jesus says is “Blessed,” “fortunate,” “favored in the eyes of God” “of high importance in God’s mind.”
So, if you were an emperor, and your general, General Cassius, had won a battle, you might put up a pillar in the market, with inscriptions telling about the battle or pictures of the battle carved in stone. People would walk by and say, “General Cassius is an important man, of high standing in the empire.” If you were a politician in ancient Rome, you might pay for the building of a gymnasium for the public, or a temple where people would worship. People would say “That Flavius is a well-regarded citizen.”
If you were a beggar, on the other hand, people would despise you. People would think you are nothing.
When Jesus says “Blessed,” he is saying that these people are valued in the mind of God, of high standing in the mind of God.
Important in the mind of God, are the poor in spirit. You know, when you are trying to do the right thing but you’re not absolutely certain. When you’ve hit a dry patch in your spiritual life. Everybody hits a dry patch at one point or another. We don’t particularly feel the presence of God, go through the motions instead. But you do it anyway because you’re devoted.
Mother Theresa did that. You may remember Mother Theresa, she’s been sainted by the Roman Catholic Church, she would carry people who were dying on the streets of Calcutta back to her rooms and take care of them till they died. She understood them to be Jesus. When Mother Theresa died, they read her diary and found that she had prayed for decades that God would send her an affirmation, a spiritual empowerment for her calling. Came once, in fifty years of work. Once she got an answer to that prayer. But she kept on going.
Blessed are you if you keep on going with what God calls you to do, even if you don’t feel it. Yours is the kingdom of heaven. You are the time and place through which God touches the world.
Blessed, important in God’s mind, are those who mourn.
I know everyone’s marriage situation is different and not everybody exactly feels the same, but some of you have told me how much you miss your beloved, who has died. Many of you. And indeed, he was grand, in his own way, wasn’t he. She was beautiful in her own way. We miss them.
Jesus says “Blessed are you, for you will be comforted.” Death is not the end.
Blessed, honored in God’s heart are the meek. The meek? Come on, Jesus, don’t you know that the way to get ahead in this world is by being loud and aggressive and strong? And indeed, there is a place for loudness and aggression and strength. But important in God’s mind are the meek, the unassuming, those of less power. They’re the ones who will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who hunger and thirst for times and places where people are treated with dignity as human beings, where creation is regarded as what it truly is, a gift of infinite complexity and wonder.
Blessed are the merciful. In Jesus’ day mercy was considered a sign of weakness in some circles. Still is in some circles today. Important in God’s mind are the merciful, because God will have mercy on them.
Blessed are the pure in heart, those who match the vision of God in their heart with the words they speak with their mouth and the things they do with their hands. They will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God, the ones who show the world what God is like, the presence of God on earth.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Those who are willing to suffer so that there may be times when people do to others as you would have them do to you, when people’s human personhood is honored. You will be satisfied. I know it’s long. But it will happen.
Blessed are you, when people revile you and persecute you and say bad things about you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you.”
These are Christian values. This is who we are.
Mind you, the beatitudes do not mean that we are to lie down like a doormat and let people walk all over us. Jesus gets purple faced at several points in the Gospel of Matthew. He throws the money changers out of the temple. He rages at the scribes and Pharisees for fixating on stupid little rules instead of focusing on the blessing of human beings. He tells a terrifying parable at the end of his teaching. (This Sermon on the Mount comes here at the beginning of his teaching. Parable of the sheep and the goats comes at the end of his teaching.) This parable where it becomes absolutely, immediately imperative to care for the hungry and thirsty and naked, for the foreigner and the prisoner and the sick. We all know where the sheep go. We all know where the goats go too.
Jesus gets purple faced with anger over these principals, these values.
Paul says it like this in our second lesson for today, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to us who are being saved, both Jews and Greeks, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
Or let me say it this way. Jesus chooses to see in you and me, inestimable value, infinite worth, even when we have treated each other and ourselves like filth. Jesus chooses to see you and me as beautiful, even when we have been acting horribly. Jesus loves us, even when we have been hateful to each other.
Jesus loves us so much that he died for us. And that changes everything. Now, important in our minds are the poor in spirit, those going through a dry patch. Important in our minds are those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for people to live in dignity and to honor the gift of creation. Important in our minds are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are willing to suffer in order to stand up for what’s right, those who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake. We get purple faced, passionate about these values. We will die for them.
That is the most freeing and joyful thing in the world, because now our value and our importance does not depend on what the rulers or people of our city or our nation our world think of us, how they view us. It does not depend on our bank account or body type or credit rating or family situation or twitter feed. Our value, our identity comes from God who loves us, truly.
That is Gospel. That’s good news.