“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5: 3-11 NIV)
I was thinking today about those pesky red letters. The words written down that were spoken by Jesus. The words that flowed directly from the mouth of God himself. They were uttered by God. Directly to people. God’s thoughts.
Every other passage written was first filtered through the mind of a fallible human. Someone with their own experiences. Someone with their own selective memories of events. Someone with their own views, biases, and strongly protected beliefs. Yes, I know that the red letters were actually written down by normal humans too. But these words are the closest we can get to God’s own infinite mind recorded.
So why are so many Christians hesitant to live by them? Why instead do we favor rules and laws? Why do we quote Old Testament Law to support our stances on various topics? Why do we often favor the teachings of Jesus’s followers rather than His own?
Why do Christians like to demand punishment and sometimes even death for people who wrong us? How can Christians be adamant supporters of the death penalty? Why state these outcries couched in righteous indignation? Why is it Christian to support bombing our enemies out of existence?
Is that what Jesus demonstrated? Might I remind you of the commuted death sentence for the adulterous woman. Jesus showed that grace is greater than law. Love is greater than judgement.
Maybe the red letters of Jesus are harder to act upon. Maybe it feels better to strike an “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” than it does to “turn the other cheek”. Maybe? Who am I kidding? It definitely is more reflexive and natural to attack than to calmly say NO, the hurting stops here!
Or how about the difference between “love your neighbor” and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”? Which one requires more energy? Which one goes against every fiber of our selfish beings? I have days when it’s all I can do to stop muttering under my breath at people, let alone pray for them!
Why has divorce become accepted in churches but LGBT people are not? How is it that a remarried man can become a church elder but a gay man cannot? Did Jesus teach a hierarchy of “unmentionables”?
Why has it become commonplace for Christians to consider the poor lazy and weak? Jesus taught over and over and over again that it is our job as followers of the gospel to care for the poor and marginalized. He told parables where poor people were held up as examples for their faith and sacrifice. Yet we look down on those who are beneath us financially.
Don’t tell me you haven’t.
Have you ever considered the poor American just as worthy of our help as the poor African child? Why is supporting one a point of pride for Christians? Yet supporting the other is evil socialism?
What makes our hearts ache at the sight of a Haitian boy’s bulging, malnourished belly? Yet berate the parents of the American child who gets free lunch? Sending donations for foreign farmers is commendable. Yet growing a garden for the hungry in our community is a waste of time and resources.
When is the last time you looked an unmistakably poor person in the eye and saw only a beautiful creation of God? Not a person who obviously has issues. (Spoiler alert: not all poor people are there due to bad choices.) When is the last time you saw a homeless person and could imagine yourself in their shoes? (Another spoiler alert: we are all merely a few unfortunate events away from living on the streets.)
Why are addicts less worthy of being fed than veterans? What if they are both? Would a war veteran lose our support if they were also a drug addict? Does that negate their worthiness? Did Jesus ask the crowd to disclose what struggles they were dealing with before handing out the free bread and fish? Did he withhold food from those who drank too much? Can someone more righteous than me point out where that teaching is in Jesus’s ministry?
Christians are selective in their outrage. Selective in their grace. Selective in what they see as the most heinous of sins. Selective in their memories of Jesus’s teachings.
Because Christians are humans. Fallible, changeable, emotional, humans.
We like rules. Order. Hierarchy. Merit based rewards. Strength.
Until we find ourselves on the wrong side of those rules. Disorder. Unfair hierarchy. Random rewards. Weakness. Then we aren’t as crazy about those systems. Then they can’t possibly be of God.
But Jesus preaches that we are blessed when humble.
Comforted when we mourn.
Rich when we are meek.
Fulfilled when we earnestly seek after truth.
Cared for when we show mercy.
Enlightened when we seek God with innocence and openness.
Called God’s children when we broker peace.
Heirs of a heavenly reward when we are persecuted for living out Christ’s example.
Blessed when people insult us, lie about us, and try to discredit us.
Because Jesus rules over an upside-down kingdom.
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9: 12-13 NIV)
What?!? Isn’t sacrifice demanded? Aren’t sinners messy? Why wouldn’t we want to surround ourselves with the righteous?
Jesus repeatedly poked at the religious leaders. Jesus scolded the church teachers. He rebuked their rules, piety, and judgmental attitudes. He wasn’t here for the powerful, the rich, the church elite. He didn’t ask for temple sacrifices. He demanded mercy.
He was here for the prostitute, the tax collector, the crippled, the widow, the sick, the lowly fisherman, the leper, the lonely, the confused. He was a champion of those the modern church likes to shame. He stood with the marginalized in spite of the Pharisees’ opposition. He broke the letter of the law to fulfill the spirit of the law. He did the right thing even when the leaders said He was wrong. He repeated His teachings again and again to the crowds. And to His disciples. Yet, even those disciples didn’t truly get it all—with God Himself, incarnate, telling them His ways.
But Jesus patiently kept loving. Kept giving. Kept healing. Kept nurturing.
He’d get away from the crowd to rest, think, pray.
And then He’d do it all again. And again. And again.
And so should we.
We are not here to continue church traditions. We are not here to sing pretty praise songs with other believers. We are not here to fight for the right to protect ourselves and our righteous ways.
We are here to hold the hurting. Love the cranky. Sit with the lonely. Bring comfort to the ill. Give to the poor. Clothe the naked. Protect the refugee. Wipe the tears of the mourning. Feed the hungry. Love.
We are here to love. To live in the red.