Scripture Readings: Micah 6:1–8 | Psalm 15 | 1 Corinthians 1:18–31 | Matthew 5:1–12
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”
(1 Corinthians 1:18).
What does it mean to be blessed?
What kind of blessings are we looking for?
In our reading today from St. Matthew’s Gospel, our Lord Jesus has a lot to say about being blessed. But what He says tends to turn most of our expectations upside down… inviting us to have our own imaginations realigned, and opening us up to receive God’s true blessing.
Our passage today comes from the very beginning of a long section in Matthew’s Gospel, a collection of His teachings often called ‘the Sermon on the Mount’. The Anglican priest and theologian John Stott gives this helpful introduction to this important part of our Lord’s mission and message: “The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed. It is the nearest thing to a manifesto that he ever uttered, for it is his own description of what he wanted his followers to be and to do.”
As Christ’s followers today, we are being offered not advice, but the teachings of our Lord… wisdom intended to reshape our lives, and help us see things God’s way.
And so, Jesus starts off this collection of His teachings by pronouncing certain people blessed: the poor in spirit; those who mourn; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; and those who are abused because of Christ.
At first glance, even for those of us who have grown up in the Church and have heard these words many times, it can be hard for us to see how any of these folks could be called ‘blessed’. In fact, it seems like the opposite is the case: all of these people… the poor in spirit; those who mourn; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; those who are persecuted, the abused… all of them seem pitiful and powerless, not blessed. At least, if we’re talking about the way we usually understand blessings.
But something else is going on here. Jesus is not simply describing some natural benefit for being in these states… He’s offering Good News that undermines many of our assumptions about what it means to truly live well… that is, to live God’s way in the world… in line with the life of our Creator. N.T. Wright puts it well: “In our world, still, most people think that wonderful news consists of success, wealth, long life, victory in battle. Jesus is offering wonderful news for the humble, the poor, the mourners, the peacemakers.”
In other words, Jesus is challenging and re-defining here what it means to be blessed, and He’s calling together a new community that will share in this blessed life.
The way St. Matthew tells the story is meant to bring to mind the memory of Moses, one of the heroes of Israel’s story who at Mt. Sinai also called God’s people into a whole new way of life… committed to the LORD, and to each other too. Many centuries earlier, Moses had gone up the mountain and received from Yahweh, the Living God, the Law, or Teachings, a gift meant to guide God’s people to live His way in a world living very differently… to help them stand out and shine as a living sign of God’s blessings intended for all nations.
If we read through the entire Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew Chapters 5-7, we’ll hear Jesus, again and again, calling all His followers back to the heart of God’s ways, that not only echo the Law given at Mt. Sinai, but bring it’s full meaning into focus… shining a spotlight on what it really means to be God’s blessed people today.
But just like the Law of Moses, Christ’s teachings in the Sermon are a gift meant to guide a whole community… to map out a way of life for God’s people to share in together.
The theologian Stanley Hauerwas puts it this way: “the sermon is not addressed to individuals but to the community that Jesus begins and portends through the calling of the disciples. The sermon is not a heroic ethic. It is the constitution of a people. You cannot live by the demands of the sermon on your own, but that is the point. The demands of the sermon are designed to make us depend on God and one another.” 
So then, far from creating a bunch of rigorous religious rules for individuals, in His teachings Jesus is re-establishing within the life of this new community of disciples, what it means to live in line together with the Living God… and that includes what it means to receive the blessings God has in store for His people to share. In short, we’re talking about something that always has a social, a communal element. The blessings Christ speaks of are not merely about our own private experiences. We can’t separate living God’s blessed way in the world from how we relate to one another.
Something very similar is going on in our first reading today, from the prophet Micah, where the Lord is challenging the assumptions of His unfaithful people, and calling them to return to Him, and follow His blessed ways.
But what does that look like? Is God after some grand gesture, or religious ceremony? What must God’s people actually do to please the Living God? Micah 6:6-7,
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
This kind of thing made sense in the ancient world. To please the gods, you gave them elaborate gifts… even sacrificing one’s own firstborn children would not be off the table. And in our own day, we too can be tempted to think that God wants us to placate Him… imagining that if we just do this or that ‘religious’ or ‘righteous’ thing, then He’ll bless us. Then He’ll give us all the things we want.
But the message that Micah was entrusted to share turns this way of relating to God on its head, reminding God’s people that the point is not to use our connection to the LORD to get what we want, but to seek the LORD and walk in His ways… which is itself the blessed life that He longs to share with us. As the biblical scholar John Walton points out: “God was not asking to be appeased through extravagant gifts. The most extravagant offering they could give him would be their obedience.” And Micah points out what obedience to the Living God looks like: it looks like love.
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
We’re brought right back to the heart of the Law of Moses… and the two great commandments that Jesus says uphold the entire Covenant: Love the Lord your God wholeheartedly… humbly walk with Him… and love your neighbours… do justice… do what is right, and love to show kindness and mercy.
This is the blessed life: to love God, and to love one another… to share His love together. If we want to receive God’s blessing, this is the way that Jesus gives us.
But… won’t we just get walked over if we’re led by love while everyone around us doesn’t live this way? This sounds really nice and spiritual, but it doesn’t seem all that practical. Not practicable. What would happen if we actually lived like this in today’s world?
That’s a question worth asking, and sitting with for a while. And it brings to mind the many times that good people have been taken advantage of by those who don’t live this way… those who don’t really care about God at all, or about the wellbeing of their neighbours.
I’m sure many of us have stories like this… times when we’ve been open and loving to others, only to be burned. When this happens, we face the temptation to temper our openness and love for those who might end up hurting us… limiting what we’re willing to do to work for justice and mercy… and all that comes with it, in order to protect ourselves… to hold onto some sense of control… and not feel so powerless.
But right from the start, Jesus calls His disciples to follow Him on a different, difficult path… the path of God’s love… a path which will at times leave us all vulnerable… but even so, it is the path that leads us into God’s own blessed life.
Looking back to our Gospel reading, we can see that there’s one thing each group that Jesus calls blessed has in common: they are all vulnerable… apparently powerless people… open to the abuse of the neighbours they are called to love.
The poor in spirit; those who mourn; the meek; those who hunger and thirst, who are deprived of what is right; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; and those who are abused because of Christ. None of these describe the people our world considers powerful, those who call the shots, who get their own way, and protect themselves from harm… those most would consider blessed.
So why does Jesus call these vulnerable folk blessed? Because they will share in the God’s own blessed life. Their ‘blessedness’ may not be apparent, or obvious, but it is promised, awaiting the fulfillment of what has been assured… like a seed, planted in the soil will one day bear its fruit, even if for a time it gets trampled under uncaring feet.
The way of love, which lies at the heart of all those Jesus calls blessed, requires faith and hope… trust that despite all of the dangers involved, it will be worth it, not because we can see how right now, but because our Lord has promised it will be… and He Himself has already led the way.
Christ is inviting us to join Him… to follow God’s love all the way to the cross… which upends the wisdom of the world that says only the powerful and strong can be happy and blessed… revealing in His own sufferings our world’s injustice, cruelty, and prideful rejection of God, and drawing near with compassion and mercy to all those who are beaten down, vulnerable, and abused.
At the cross, Jesus made Himself entirely vulnerable… embodying all of the weakness and need of those He promised would be blessed. At the cross, He surrendered His life in order to bring God’s saving love to the world, even to those who had abused, betrayed, and brutalized Him. But this was precisely how He would bring God’s blessed life to everyone… making things right with God on our behalf with His own broken body… covering us with kindness and mercy we didn’t deserve with His own blood… dying, then rising again to lift us up so we too could share in full fellowship, communion with God… sharing our life with Him, and humbly walking in His ways.
None of this would have been possible if Jesus had not been vulnerable… if He had not faithfully walked the path of self-giving love, that first led Him to the cross, but ultimately brought Him to the glory of God’s right hand, and opened up the way for us to share in His blessings forever.
The life of the Church, this new community that Christ is calling into being, is blessed only as we share in His life… in faith and hope, following Jesus into the way of God’s self-giving love. Even when it means we will face suffering along with Him, we know we too will share in the glorious blessings of His Kingdom.
So may the Holy Spirit renew and re-align our hearts and minds, to receive God’s blessed life today. May we be drawn together as brothers and sisters in God’s family, empowered to encourage and support one another as we follow our Saviour together. And may we be filled with the faith and hope we need to share in Christ’s self-giving love for our world… even when it means sharing in His vulnerability, confident that God Himself will be at work through it all.
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) Amen.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 14–15.
 Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 36–37.
 Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 61.
 Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Mic 6:7.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School