4th Sunday after the Epiphany, 2014 – Matthew 5:1-12

The Beatitudes. That’s what – by tradition – we call this passage. The Beautiful sayings. And why not? With all the blessedness that Jesus talks about here, how could we call them anything but beautiful sayings? But what if I were to tell you that there was nothing at all beautiful about these sayings? What if I told you that these sayings were nothing but nonsense? For in fact, that is just what they are, nothing but foolish nonsense.

For pleasure and relaxation, one of the things I love to do is write. I write stories of historical fiction. Now, I don’t call myself a writer, I actually haven’t finished anything, and in the last few years, I haven’t had much time at all to my most enjoyable personal pursuit. But it is one of my greatest pleasures nonetheless. Now there is one thing that is absolutely necessary for one who writes historical fiction. Yes, you have to research exhaustively, but that is not the really fun part. What makes it possible to write historical fiction is the ability to take all you know about a certain place and a certain time and the people that lived there, and using your imagination, see the world through their eyes. To think how they would have thought, to feel what they would have felt. Trying to understand the world from the perspective of those who came before us. This is the part about writing historical fiction and I find really fun.

Now, I would like you all to try to do this with me. For just a moment, I would like you to see the world through the eyes of a Jewish man or woman living in Judea in the 1st century. You live in a world under occupation and those you should be able to count upon in your nation the most, your king and your priests have become corrupted by your occupiers. Rome rules the world by the power of its military might. No one can stand against them. What they want, they take. They are the closest thing to the power of God on this earth. You had a kingdom before, but it was taken from you, not once, not twice, but three times. You were conquered by the Babylonians and sent into exile, but the Persians conquered the Babylonians and they let you return to the land and reform your nation. You were conquered by the Greeks, but a family of priests – the Maccabees –  rose up and with the help of their allies the Romans, they threw out the Greeks. But then your fiends and allies the Romans, turned against you. The put in a puppet king named Herod to control you and when he died, they brought in their legions as an occupying force and you became once again a people conquered by the strong and the wicked. This is the world in which you live. And hearing about this healer and teacher from Galilee, you – like many, many others – go to find Him and hear what He has to say. After all, your desperate for some hope of freedom, and they say that this man works miracles. So you go and you find Him and He is surrounded by a multitude and you follow as He climbs to the side of a mountain and then He stops and turns toward the multitude and begins to speak. It is so quiet, you can hear a pin drop as He begins to speak. Now as Jesus – this teacher and wonder worker from Galilee – speaks the “beautiful” sayings, you cannot believe what you’re hearing. What a load of claptrap! You’d have done better to just stay home and mind your own business. You came all this way to here this bunch of foolish nonsense? You came for answers to the pain and anguish around you and this is what you get? Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The Jewish people had a kingdom. It was God’s kingdom on earth. It was the kingdom of heaven won by mighty men of God, His priests. And who has it now? Not the poor in Spirit, but the rich in power. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. The Jewish people have mourned for years while their rulers sit in comfort. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. We know better don’t we? Who possesses the earth? Not the meek, but the bold. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. What nonsense! We have been merciful as God has commanded, and what have we gotten in return from the Romans? Not mercy, but their boot on our necks. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Really? Go to the temple, and see for yourselves who is permitted into the presence of God – into His Holy of Holies – surely not the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Ridiculous! We know who are called the sons of God and they are not peacemakers. They have vast armies and they give themselves titles like Pharaoh and Ceasar.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad. Really Jesus, is that your answer? We are God’s chosen people, we live for Him. And our oppressors have reviled us, and have persecuted us, and uttered all kinds of evil against us. And you tell us to rejoice and be glad. This is not a blessing. This is a curse.

No, these are not beautiful sayings. In the eyes of the world, these words are foolishness, in the ears of the Jewish people, how could these words sound like anything but a scandal; offensive to the point of rejection; a stumbling block. How could we ever consider these words to be beautiful? But don’t you see, this is what they are meant to be. Foolishness and scandalous in the eyes of the world. As Paul wrote:

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

These beautiful sayings are foolishness and scandalous in the eyes of the wise. They defy all worldly wisdom. Why? Because that is the way God wanted it. God the Son came to us not as the son of God at the head of an vast army to conquer lesser armies. He came in the humiliation of the manger, a homeless wanderer proclaiming the wisdom of God as words of foolish nonsense. And how did he conquer the very power of sin and death. He allowed Himself killed like a sinner on the cross. Nothing but foolishness.

But as Paul wrote, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” You see, we can’t find God through seeking of our reason and wisdom and we can’t be saved through the works of this world, no matter how mighty they may be. God revealed Himself to us not through the wisdom of the wise so that only the wise of this world could know Him. He revealed Himself through the scandal of the cross. Nothing but folly to the wisdom of this world. We have nothing of our own here to hold on to. No reason or wisdom or work of our own to justify our redemption and salvation. Nothing of our own we can boast of to our neighbor. If you just think like me or do like me, you too can be saved. No, that just won’t work? Have you ever wondered why proclaiming the greatest Good News ever known makes you feel so foolish? Because it is. But don’t let that stop you. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” We are called and sent to proclaim, but not our own wisdom and not our own mighty proofs. We are called to proclaim Christ crucified. A folly and a scandal? Yes. But the greatest folly, the most wonderful scandal of all time. So let us all go and boast to our neighbors this ultimate foolishness. We are saved by God’s blessed gift of faith in Jesus Christ who died for us and rose from the dead, conquering the very power of sin and death and raising us up with Him to everlasting life. These Beatitudes are foolishness to the ears of the world, but boast all the more, for through the blessing of faith, they are truly beautiful.

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