By Paula Damon
News flash! I finally see a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train! Instead, it’s an explanation for the Sermon on the Mount (AKA The Beatitudes) that I can get my head around. I came across it in the Bible translation, “The Message,” by Methodist pastor Eugene Peterson.
For those who have never heard of the Sermon on the Mount or may need a refresher, consider it Jesus’ first official State of the Union address. After being baptized by his cousin John in the River Jordan, Jesus offered this sermon as his first set of instructions on mercy and compassion, drawing deeply on love and humility.
From that moment on, Jesus was infused by the Holy Spirit and ready to turn things upside down by creating a new normal, regarding love, forgiveness, peace and being children of God.
During this, his first gig, Jesus drew away from the growing crowds to a nearby hillside to have a word with his direct reports – the disciples whom he handpicked and would commission to relay the Good News to the ends of the Earth.
The Message translation deconstructs the eight proverb-like Beautitude – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful,” and so on – into bite-sized pieces easily digestible by you and me. This translation explains you are blessed when…
“You’re at the end of your rope. With less of you, there’s more of God and His rule.
“You’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re content with who you are – no more, no less. That’s when you find yourself a proud owner of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’ve worked up a good appetite for God – the best meal ever.
“You care and are care-full. That’s when you find yourself being cared for.
“You get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You show people how to cooperate instead of how to compete and fight. That’s when you discover who you really are and your place in God’s family.
“You’re commitment to God provokes persecution…driving you deeper into relationship with God.
“When people put you down, throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit Jesus. This means the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens – give cheer – and know you are in good company as all of heaven applauds.”
Through this new understanding, I can finally see a reflection of myself in The Beatitudes that is positive – almost uplifting.
In this – Jesus first message to His followers – He delivers an unprecedented news flash by drawing a new line of demarcation between the haves and have-not. He redefines what it means to be blessed.
And it has nothing to do with being a power broker or a star on the red carpet; a lottery winner or a Super Bowl champion. According to Jesus, we don’t have to have big bucks or a big house to be blessed.
Instead, it’s not what we have or what happens to us in life that matters. It’s how we deal with what we don’t have and how we react to what happens to us that really and truly matters.
Sixteenth Century theologian and founder of Lutheranism, Martin Luther explained The Beatitudes by stating: “This life is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road…”
This little story from “Duckville” by 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard illustrates further the freedom this Bible passage imbues…
“Every Sunday the ducks waddled out of their houses and down Main Street to church. They waddled into the sanctuary and sat in their proper pews.
“The duck choir waddled in and sang. The duck minister came forward and opened the duck Bible and said, ‘Ducks, God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! No walls can confine you! No fence can hold you! You can fly like birds.’
“All the ducks shouted, ‘AMEN!’ and then waddled home.”
Yes, it is true. I have seen the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train.
It’s a new light, a new sound, provoking me to see my life and the lives of others through the lens of deep love and humility, giving me wings to fly.
So, instead of waddling on through life, I can soar.