Matthew 5:1-12 | Jesus' Inaugural Address
This past Sunday Caleb reminded us that Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount - which are often quoted in the service of civil religion, are meant to be read, heard and heeded in the gathered worshipping community. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is for the people of God, the new community that is a foretaste of the redeemed humanity that Jesus is gathering around himself.
The people Jesus is gathering around himself are not the people that the powerful usually care about. They are poor; they are downtrodden; they are oppressed by religious leaders and Roman rulers alike. Jesus calls them blessed and begins the work of his kingdom with them.
Jesus calls them blessed and he says it to them in the indicative mood. Caleb pointed out that “the beatitudes are in the indicative, but there is tension.”. This is the tension of the already and not yet of the coming kingdom of God. We are blessed but the movement of Jesus’ kingdom is a work in progress. In our individual lives we can take heart in the fact that our struggle with faith and repentance does not mean that we we are not blessed (as Paul said in Philippians, God who began a good work in us will perfect it). This tension between the already and the not yet builds our faith and encourages us to strive forward, “knowing that it is God that is at work within us.” This heartens me as a disciple with regard to my own personal struggles but it also reminds to think and act rightly with regard to the plight of those who are poor, oppressed, and on the margins. As Caleb reminded us, quoting theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, “Blessed are the poor ‘does not mean: “accept your poverty because later this injustice will be compensated for in the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God, this new reality, inaugurated by Jesus is received as a gift, Gutierrez says. He writes, “In other words, the elimination of the exploitation and poverty that prevent the poor from being fully human has begun.” Building on this important truth, Caleb wrapped up by quoting James Davidson Hunter: “The church is always a ‘community of resistance.’ First and foremost, of course, this means that the church itself must model its alternative...the church must be present in the world in ways that work toward a constructive subversion of all frameworks of social life that are incompatible with the shalom for which we were made and to which we were called.”
The homily was a good reminder to me that the coming of Jesus’ kingdom is to be received as a gift. I am blessed because Jesus has called me blessed and promised to perfect the kingdom on this earth and in us frail people. I was also stirred to action when I thought about how and what I can do to bring the blessings to others, especially those on the margins.
God and Father of the poor, the oppressed, the refugee, and the alien, who inspired these words to be written in our Old Testament, “So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt”: we invoke the power of the Holy Spirit who inspired those words of Scripture, and the name of Jesus, who descended from a displaced people and was murdered by the state; we ask in Jesus’ name for your Spirit to incline our hearts and the heart of our country towards the needs of refugees in light of the recent changes to immigration policy. We pray that our nation’s policy towards refugees will always heed the words of Jesus, if you have done it to least of these…. you have done it to me.