And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you
and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and
leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
All that you can’t leave behind
An important skill for Christian discipleship in this or any age, is discerning what things we hold on to as essential, and what things we hold with open hand.
In his ‘Sermon on the plain’ Jesus Christ announces blessings and curses with tremendous and searching authority. These blessings and curses are especially important for disciples to understand, and they parallel each other. They emphasise how the kingdom that Jesus brings reverses our expectations of where true blessing and joy are found (1:52-53). Look again at what things parallel each other. According to Jesus, true blessing can be discerned in your attitude to four things: Money, Food, Laughter and Reputation.
If I’m honest I find a huge temptation for all of these to be things I want to grasp onto tightly, even (perhaps especially!) in a post-corona virus, lockdown world. I love money because it gives me the illusion of security and control. I love food because I reach for it as a comfort blanket and panic at any hint of shortage. I love laughter and pleasure and want to reach for whatever form of escapism is closest to hand, numbing the pain of the latest wave of troubling headlines. I love people speaking well of me, so much so that there’s a real struggle in my heart as I contemplate putting my head above the parapet and speaking up for Jesus with friends and neighbours or on social media.
And yet Jesus’ words bring me up short. To set my heart on any of these things in a settled way as non-negotiables in my life places me under the very curse of God. Jesus teaches a very different approach to the blessed life, showing me that true joy now and forever is actually found by holding these things with an open hand:
- I’m blessed as I realise money can’t really make me safe, and as I look to the Lord to provide what is necessary to live for him, anticipating his glorious kingdom (v20).
- I’m blessed as I realise that food on it’s own can’t give me true satisfaction or comfort, as I look to help the hungry around me, as I look to Jesus with true satisfaction for what he provides now and forever (v21).
- I’m blessed as I realise that pain and sorrow aren’t to be avoided at all costs, that lament and struggle have a valued place in discipleship, and that there is a good laughter that delights God to be experienced on the way of the cross and in the glorious kingdom to come (v22).
- I’m blessed as I realise that reputation is so precarious and fleeting, that there is One whose glorious reputation is so important that it’s worth risking all for (vs 22-23).
According to verses 22-23, the key is living life for the glory of Son of Man – for his account and for his sake. Will you grasp onto him tightly, the one who ‘loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20)? Will you hold the rest with an open, thankful hand? As the old hymns says:
‘How blest is life if lived for Thee,
My loving Saviour and my Lord:
No pleasure that the world can give
Such perfect gladness can afford’.
Prust’s Supplementary Hymn Book, 1869
Pete Campbell, Capel Fron