Does anyone else feel that the world is spinning out of control? The inauguration of the US president, and the opening days of his rule, seems to have turned the world on its head—or perhaps it is better to say that what used to lie simmering beneath the surface of contemporary life has now broken into the daylight. Even in our own country, we have begun to see some of this. And so there has descended upon many of us a sense of unrest, anxiety, and fear. What will happen in the future? What horror will we face next? Will this ever stop?
I find that these are days where we need to hear the Beatitudes in their truest context. I am reminded that the Beatitudes are not simple, pie-in-the-sky statements of blissful morality. They are not naive descriptions of world-peace, or the plea for us all to ‘play-nice’. No. Jesus is teaching the disciples, and the crowd around him, about what it means to be an alternative community of people. Jesus calls us to live out the Kingdom of God, often in opposition to the messages and values of the world around us. The Beatitudes, and the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount for that matter, is perhaps Jesus’ most ‘political’ of teachings. Yet for me, the power in this lies in the fact these politically, socially charged statements are radical precisely because Jesus doesn’t issue a diatribe on politics and social ethic. Rather, he calls people the reality of God’s presence, and the blessing of God that surrounds them.
Think about who Jesus is speaking to. These are the down and out. They are the people who have been waiting, longing, praying, and crying out for a touch of God’s hand in their lives. These are the people that have been on the wrong side of power. But instead of stating how wonderful it would be if everyone would just help one another, Jesus points them to a deeper reality than the ‘alternative truths’ of the Roman Empire and the powerful elite. Jesus reminds them, and us, that the blessing of God—the activity, favour, and power of the one who created all things—is met precisely in their questions and their fears.
In this way Jesus calls them to a better kingdom. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he says. Yet peace is not found in simply becoming the big kid on the block. Replacing one tyrannical ruler with our own tyrannical rule does not make for peace: it just means we are in control. And this way of life is as much steeped in the rhetoric of power and dominance as the script that tells others to build a wall and kick the foreigners out.
Jesus calls us to stand against the ethic of power, but not in violence or usurpation. The Kingdom of God is not a better kingdom because it is bigger or more powerful. It is better because it is a kingdom of self-sacrificial love. The call to mercy is the willingness to step outside of the cycle of violence and hatred—to be the one who will extend the hand of peace and forgiveness. Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “You have heard it said ‘love your neighbour, hate your enemies—but I say ‘love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
Living in the Kingdom of God calls us to be a people of hope. We are asked to believe that we ‘will see God’ for no other reason than Jesus has promised it to be so. We are to have the hope that, despite the ‘alternative facts’ promoted by those in power, God actually is in control of this crazy world of ours: God will bring healing, peace, justice and righteousness to the earth. The community of people that Jesus inaugurates on the mountain is a community of people who are so filled with hope that they choose to live their lives as if the Kingdom of God was a full reality around them.
Can we be this community? Can we be a community, not of critique but of compassion—and by doing so allow our compassion to provide the necessary critique to the scripts of denial in this world of ours? Can we let the love of Jesus so fill our hearts that we turn our cheeks and go extra miles as an expression of God’s love for all people, even those who use power to dominate and oppress? This is not easy, which is probably why Jesus concludes the Beatitudes by speaking to persecution and rejection. But we aren’t in the Kingdom of God for ease, or clout, or to push through our manifest destinies. We are in the Kingdom of God because the radical love and peace of Jesus is the only thing that can stem the sin of hate and pride in us, and in each other.
This is what it means to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This is what it means to be a people of love and blessing, a people who live in, and live out, the Kingdom of God.