Friday, January 3, 2014

The Power of the Imaginative Story: Matthew (part 2)

Jesus sits on the incline of the mountain and positions himself so that he can look into the faces of his disciples who are gathered before him, but also to look beyond them to the crowds gathered in the valley below.

What is he seeing?

He sees many who are poor, not only in terms of resource but also in terms of life. Their very bodies suffer the poverty of malnutrition and disease, and the hope of a renewal of God’s breath within them is vague at best. That is, until Jesus has touched them. He sees them in the distance and brings them out of the depths of despair when he claims,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

There are those who have given up on their lives, seeing their suffering and pain as evidence of God’s disinterest in them. Others came in despair, having lost hope that their loved ones might be made whole again. But Jesus declares a reality that they are only beginning to experience, and he calls out,

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Many who have brought loved ones to be healed by Jesus have spent long periods of time as caregivers. Some might have taken on their tasks grudgingly, but others would bring care with love and gentleness, characteristics that would not have put them in league with the strong and powerful of the world, those who would not be encumbered by the concerns of the infirm. Jesus sees those who exhibit humility and points them toward a surprising destiny:

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

There would be those in the crowds who strained against injustice—injustice seen in the dominance of the Romans over the Jews, injustice within the very life of Israel, and the injustice of sickness and pain being visited upon God’s people. They would long for things to be put right in the world and for God’s intentions to be made real in the here and now. They long also for their own hearts to be made right before God. Jesus celebrates their longing and gives them hope:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

There would have been many people in the crowds who had left homes and businesses to bring others to the feet of Jesus. Many of those who were suffering would have been incapable of such travel on their own. They would have been dependent upon the mercy of others whose bodies were whole and strong to carry them to the valley were Jesus might bring his healing. Those who had given of themselves for the sake of others did not miss Jesus’ notice:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

One of the insults branded upon Jesus by his opponents was “friend of sinners.” Jesus was not put off by those who lives were lived out on the fringes of religious and social respectability. In his encounters with these “sinners,” he found some who, in the midst of their brokenness, exhibited a transparent innocence, an innocence that allowed them to be exposed before Jesus so that he might draw them into a new kind of life. Unencumbered by the scheming and posturing that often characterized the strong and powerful, their eyes were opened to the fullness of God that was in Jesus. Jesus saw them, too:

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

It may be, because of the large gathering of people, that soldiers were present on that day. They might have been Jewish temple guards or even Roman soldiers, standing off and away from the crowds, watching in case some form of insurrection might be brewing. Jesus sees them just as he sees the others, and he redefines their vocations, calling them away from the corruption and violence that was always a possibility for them, and to a new view of themselves of ones who might foster peace in a violent and destructive world:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Stories of Roman persecution of the Jews were commonplace in Israel. Some were devastated financially by unfair taxation. Others might have suffered at the hands of Rome’s interrogators whenever plots to overthrow Roman rule were suspected. Many had been sent to their deaths, rows of crucified bodies reminding the populace of the power of the dominant rulers. Perhaps even anticipating his own suffering and death, Jesus refuses to allow those who have been sinned against to be forgotten:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus sees them all, and calls them blessed. He draws them—the sick, the tormented, the poor, the unpowerful, the marginalized, the “sinners”—away from the fringes of life and into the circle of God’s love. It is a place of God’s blessing, a place were hope and healing thrive.

It is a much larger circle than anyone could have imagined.

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