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Jesus Creed

Kingdom of God is the central vision of Jesus, and today we want to look at the Beatitudes in Luke 6:20-26. It is tempting to expand such a consideration, and look at all of the Sermon on the Mount/Plain. I’ll leave that to you.

In the Beatitudes of Luke (Matthew’s differ slightly, and we’ll avoid noting all those differences), Jesus says this:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

There is a clear contrast between the poor and the rich, the hungry and the full, the weeping and the laughing. Jesus blesses the former and utters woe to the latter.

It is a mistake to think this a list of virtues, as so many have done. The Beatitudes may indicate behavioral traits, but what the beatitudes do more specifically is “bless” specific groups to whom Jesus says God will show his final mercy as the Kingdom of God is established. Jesus is saying that in the Kingdom of God there will be the poor, the hungry, and those who weep — along with those who are persecuted because of their association with Jesus. This Kingdom will exclude those who live contrary to God’s will.

In other words, the goal isn’t to go out and be poor, or starve yourself so you’ll be hungry, or become sad so you can weep, or even go out and do something to get persecuted. No, what needs to be seen here is that Jesus sees the inauguration of the Kingdom underway, and he says this first set of people are the ones who will be in it, and the second group won’t.

The Matthean list, which is sometimes treated as nothing but a list of virtues, needs to be seen for what it is as well: it is a contrast with those who are not those things: the poor, the mourning, the meek, the righteous-seekers, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted are in contrast to to the rich, the laughing, the haughty, the power-seekers, the unmerciful, the pure in externalities only, the warmongers, and those who are persecuting.

Put together, we have a seamless thread from Mary to the Beatitudes: the Kingdom of God is the society in which the will of God is done, and it is a society for anyone who will join up with Jesus and live as he teaches. This society, however, will surprise many for it will not be directed by the powerful, but populated by the pious poor and marginalized who simply do what Jesus calls them to do, who simply long for God’s will and God’s justice to be established so Israel can be the community God has called it to be.

When we see Kingdom, we need to think “society.” When the nation and then later the entire Roman empire didn’t respond, this little “society” became more accustomed to “church” instead of “Kingdom,” but “Kingdom” has always been the larger, more encompassing vision that Jesus has for us.

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