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Is Jesus Selling Us a Bill Of Goods?

The Beatitudes feel like Jesus is Tom Sawyer and discipleship is painting a fence

by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Gospel Reading: Luke 6:20-31

For Sunday, November 7, 2010 Year C - All Saints

Is Jesus just being a little Tom Sawyer here, trying to make being poor, hungry and hated like the Christian spiritual equivalent of painting a fence? “Oh it’s great being a miserable wretch in my name” Jesus says in his tattered overalls and corn cob pipe, his fingers crossed behind him, “…it’s being ‘blessed’ and as a matter of fact, being rich and fabulous is woeful compared to being homeless and starving.” I, for one, am not taken in. Based on this I will not be picking up a paintbrush for Jesus.

Picking Up the Paintbrush?

The Beatitudes, these blessings at the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are so weird. Blessed are the poor? Those who are hated, those who are reviled? I tend to have one of two reactions: If this is what being “blessed” looks like, I might have to pass.

Or, conversely, I end up looking at the Beatitudes is as pure exhortation. If only I were a lot more hungry, then God would bless me. If only I just wept more. We want to hear it like that so we can take things into our own hands. Because it’s easier to try and do what it takes to earn God’s favor that to sit in the very disturbed reality of the beatitudes.

Who are They About?

Jesus is describing God, not us, which seems a lot more hopeful. The Beatitudes are descriptive of God’s kingdom, not prescriptive of what we need to try and be more of. It’s easy to hear it like that though, like we should all wear buttons that say “I’m meeker than your honor student” or “The weepy and reviled make better Christians.” But it obviously it doesn’t work like that.

This is a proclamation that God is there in the abandoned places of human despair even when we suspect that God is only in glory and triumph. It makes me wonder if maybe blessed are the poor actually might mean blessed are those who not very spiritual.

Now that’s good news for someone like myself who basically thinks “being really spiritual” means exhibiting a peacefulness which may or may not look a lot like having taken a large dose of Zanex.

Really Spiritual

You know, like if I were really “spiritual,” I’d never get upset or be selfish or cynical − which would basically take a personality transplant at this point. But isn’t that what we think of when we hear “saint”? Someone who is really, really, spiritual? Who floats about an inch off the ground and never struggles with the inelegant things we regular folks do here on earth?

Yet it is we who are blessed − we, the broken saints and forgiven sinners.

Some church you got here Jesus.

The Hardest Question

I’ve already posed it, but my basically my question is this: Are these sayings actually about us at all? Or do these sayings point to God and (gasp!) not to us? Do the Beatitudes perhaps speak to the fact that God is present in these places we don’t think God hangs out − with the wretched, the wanting and the wasted?


Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. She is the author of Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television (Seabury, 2008) and blogs at www.sarcasticlutheran.com and Jim Wallis’ www.GodsPolitics.com. Nobody really believes she’s an ordained pastor in the ELCA. Maybe it’s the sleeve tattoos or the fact that she swears like a truck driver. Either way…she’s fine with it. Nadia lives in Denver with her family of four.

Comments

  1. Shelley says:

    Thank you, Nadia. Great insights

  2. Tim Seitz-Brown says:

    Jesus blesses the down-and-out. Then Jesus curses the flying-high. Then he seems to reverse himself, announcing God’s mercy to the ungrateful and the wicked.

    Here is my hardest question: What is the bottom line? Blessing? Cursing?

    Or being merciful?

    To put it another way: How do you reconcile the Lord’s cursing the “flying high” with God’s mercy toward the “wicked”? I’m struggling to get it to all add up. That’s way too hard for me!

  3. Tim Seitz-Brown says:

    P.S. I think my question is similar to Nadia’s, “Can we just keep the nice bits?”

  4. Pastor Nadia says:

    @Tim,

    I have started to wonder if these are not 2 distinct groups of people. Maybe Jesus is talking about one group – describing their blessings and curses.

    Thoughts?

    NBW

  5. Leslie Clark says:

    Thanks for that, Nadia!

    Reading this morning I suddenly realized how we immediately move to absolutize the groups, the “poor” and the “rich” etc. Following Buechner, another way to see these groups as “seasons in life.” No one, not even the very rich, get spared suffering. And we know that if you try to spare a person from suffering (whether as a parent or as a partner of an addict), you deny them an opportunity to change and grow.

    Maybe the “blessing” of poverty is one given to anyone who comes to their bottom and realizes that there is nowhere to turn, that all the blessings they previously thought were theirs to hold were actually illusory.

    Love THQ!

    Blessings,

    Leslie Clark

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