You Say You Want A Revolution

There is currently no shortage of uprisings, protests, and mini-revolutions going on all across our globe. Coming together and combining voices, resources, power, or votes is what spurs on change. Some feel violence is the only way, while others have mobilized peaceful marches and protests to effect change. The desire for freedom and dignity and hope runs deep in the hearts of humanity. People do not want to submit to the tyrannical and oppressive rule of others and, as we see time and again, there comes a time where those restraints are challenged and broken. It can be peaceful or violent, but the goal is change. Hopefully, change for the better and change that honors freedom, dignity, and hope for everyone.

These are not new concepts. The stories of scripture tell the story of God calling a people to be set apart as an example of what it means to live in relationship with God and others. The people of Israel were not to be like the other cultures around them. They were live by a higher standard, a standard that abided by principles, laws, that depicted and honored justice and human dignity. God was constantly raising up prophets to remind the people of Israel of their covenant relationship with God and each other. Sometimes they listened and they were self-governing. Sometimes they didn’t and they were led, yet again, into captivity.

Then comes Jesus. Jesus was born into this band of Israelites, raised within its religious institutions, and culturally co-existing with the occupying Roman Empire. Hope that God would send the Messiah and usher in the new kingdom or that God would raise up a conquering hero who would lead them to overthrow the oppressors were common threads throughout the history of the people of Israel. The people of Israel were ready for a revolution. And then comes Jesus.

Jesus was a revolutionary, alright, but not one that anyone expected. Jesus came to lead a revolution and establish a counter-culture meant to transform individuals and institutions. Today, as it was two millennia ago, the Sermon on the Mount is the closest thing we have to a Jesus manifesto. It’s probably the most recognized of his teachings and also the most misunderstood.

The Sermon on the Mount opens with a series of proclamations – the beatitudes – that sets the stage for the rest of the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Our focus is going to be only on the beatitudes. We’ll look at them, one at a time, and see what there is for us. I’m venturing that most of us want not just change, but transformation in our lives. The beatitudes may be a key to that transformation.

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 receive 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 for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:1-12).

Something we need to understand from the beginning: Jesus is talking to his followers. He’s telling them that they are to be different – different from the nominal church and the secular world, different from the religious and the non-religious. This is a value system, an ethical standard, spiritual devotion, attitude toward money, ambition, lifestyle, and network of relationships – all of which are at odds with the prevailing culture.

The other thing is that the beatitudes aren’t separate characteristics or traits doled out separately to individuals. They also aren’t for an elitist set, an especially hand-picked cadre of people representing the religious aristocracy. Nope. Each beatitude is meant to be embodied by every follower. This is one time where it’s OK to covet. It’s our responsibility to covet them all!

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

Two words usually hang most people up: blessed and poor. If they get beyond those two words, there’s still the kingdom of heaven to get past. No wonder people give up trying to read the bible!

As is usual with Jesus, he’s not talking about how the average person understands or defines blessed. Most people see blessings as a form of favor for the fortunate. However, its deeper meaning is made holy; consecrated. A blessing from God has more to do with being used by God than it is about getting cool stuff.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s tackle poor. Jesus isn’t talking about physical poverty here. He’s referring more to spiritual poverty. Many of his followers had few possessions, were oppressed and out of hope. Their physical poverty was only exacerbated by their lack of resources and hope in changing anything about their lives our outcomes.

The first three steps used in the Twelve Step recovery programs puts it this way:

  1. Admit we are powerless over our unmanageable lives;
  2. Come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can store sanity to our lives and;
  3. Make a decision to turn our lives over to the care of God (or the God of our understanding).

The poor in spirit are humble before God. There is no arrogance in them, no self-righteousness, no self-sufficiency. Because they are free from their own pretensions, they are therefore free for God.

Anyone in recovery knows this is not a one-time acknowledgement and then move back into self-sufficiency. Instead, it is ongoing and ever-evolving as one continues to work the steps and seek to apply the insights discovered in their lives.

The same is true for the follower of Jesus: reflection, prayer, self-examination, trusting and depending on God. There isn’t any one prescribed path or any specific route to take. Trust and faith are individual and the challenges of trust and faith are as unique as each individual. That’s counter to how we’re raised and the rules we’re taught to follow. It’s not always a straight-forward cause-and-effect. That’s why it is counter-culture.

Your mission this week, should you choose to accept it, is to ponder this beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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