Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
‘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
‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Every morning I catch the 0635 from Haywards Heath to Clapham Junction. This is not a fun experience. The struggle begins on the platform where there’s always one person who chooses to stand between me and the edge of the platform. Then there are those who try to push me out of the way in order to beat me onto the train. If I am lucky enough to get one of the remaining seats I have to endure the ‘tutters’, who think it is a great imposition when someone sits next to them. To make their displeasure clear they sit with their legs as widely apart as us humanly possible, and stick their ribs into my side for the whole journey. Then there is the joy of the commuter sat opposite who refuses to give me any room for my legs. On more than one occasion my legs have taken a brutal kicking from a commuter opposite me who believed that he should be allowed more space.
Now, the temptation for the Christian commuter is to descend to the level of the ordinary rail user. It is very tempting to push through the crowds to be first onto the train, to knock people down who dare to get in the way, and to lay claim to the space around them by spreading out their arms and legs as much as possible. After all, the winner of this particular game is the person who manages to grab as much of the cramped space as it is possible to do so.
Today’s passage is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, often recognised as the most important part of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus has withdrawn from the crowds and climbed a mountain to teach his disciples. He begins by giving his disciples nine qualities that represent the characteristics of someone who is living in the Kingdom of God. In other words, here we see nine traits that Jesus expected his disciples – and us – to live up to in our lives.
These traits all turn the wisdom of the world on its head. They are what we might describe as ‘counter cultural’, that is, they go against the culture of the world in which we live. Jesus wants his followers to be poor in spirit, to know that they are inadequate. He wants them to be mourners, to be meek, to hunger after Godliness, to be merciful, and be pure in heart. Jesus expects his followers to be peacemakers, yet be persecuted. He says his followers will be blessed when they are insulted and lied about.
The world looks at these beatitudes and sees folly. It is not the meek who are powerful in their eyes; they are the ones who are trampled into the dust of the world. It is not those who set out to make peace who achieve glory, but those who lead triumphant armies. It is not those who acknowledge their own weaknesses that become great, but those who put a positive spin on their character, their personality and their achievements.
This, though, is the way of God’s kingdom. Those who will achieve glory in God’s kingdom are those who accept their weaknesses and their failings, who put their needs and demands behind God’s priorities for their lives. To be ‘blessed’ by God means making oneself a servant to those around us, being willing to turn the other cheek, to not join in the madness on commuter trains but to leave others to their foolishness and rise above it.
How hard that is. How difficult it is to consciously go against the flow of the world . But how great the reward that follows for those who choose to live this way, for they will be blessed by God. They will inherit the earth, and the very kingdom of God itself.
So why not today and in the days ahead try to live in a way that is counter-cultural, to leave the world to its foolishness, and instead embrace the blessed lifestyle of a follower of Christ.