Rev. Annie Watson ARCWP and Rev. Marek Bozek
at St. Stanislaus Polish Catholic Parish
Matthew 5:1-12 January 29, 2017
Matthew 5:1-12 January 29, 2017
"Do any of you have what we call “special interests”? For example, I bet some of you are interested in political or social issues—especially these days. I bet some of you like to go hunting and fishing, some of you like to sew or cook. Some of you like to work with your hands or play music. Maybe some of you just like to kick back and enjoy a glass of wine or a good cigar.
Whatever it is, we all have interests that are special to us. Some of us even have special interests concerning our faith. We see ourselves as occupying a special niche in our faith. I did a little brainstorming.
There is, for example, Ten Commandments Christians, who like to put signs listing the Commandments in the front yards; John 3:16 Christians, who are concerned about individual salvation; Acts chapter 2 Christians, who have a special interest in speaking in tongues; Micah 6:8 Christians, who emphasize doing justice; and Matthew 25 Christians, who believe we should be feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the prisoner; just to name a few.
There is a wide variety of special interest Christians. There is a niche group for everyone it seems.
One special interest group that is grossly underrepresented is the Beatitudes Christians. There just doesn’t seem to be very many Christians who are very enthusiastic about what Jesus had to say in Matthew 5, today’s Gospel reading.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. ‘Blessed are the merciful’ in a courtroom? ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ in the Pentagon? Give me a break!”
There is a special interest Christian group—or should be—that is relatively close to the Beatitudes Christians. I’ll call them the “blessers.” These are Christians who love to bless things, as Jesus does in the Beatitudes. In Kentucky, where I lived for many years, you can often hear people say, “Why, bless your little heart,” although I don’t think the intent of that saying is to actually bless someone.
Some people are really all about blessings. For instance, there are those who like to offer a blessing before meals, those who like to bless people or pets, and those who simply like to put their hands in the air and bless someone or something.
Offering a blessing is subtly powerful because it doesn’t try to control or manipulate its object. It’s the kind of power that says, “I want what’s best for you, not me.” Offering a blessing is the most self-less form of power in the world.
When Jesus began his ministry he was totally aware of his blessing-rich religious tradition. He knew the inherent power of offering a blessing. But he also knew how easy it is for human beings to take something as simple and as good as a blessing and distort it beyond its original purpose.
He knew how easy it is to misunderstand what it really means to be blessed. He knew, for example, that most people feel blessed when good things are happening to them, when they feel fortunate or even favored by God. Blessings are too often identified with an abundance of material things or with good luck.
But what about those who don’t look or feel blessed? Is it possible to bless the un-blessed? I believe this is the special interest group Jesus would like us to join. As Beatitudes Christians, he would like us to be “blessers of the unblessed.”
When Jesus saw the un-blessed crowds following him one day, he decided to walk up a hillside, perhaps to get a little distance from them, to take a break from the rigors of his ministry. His disciples caught up to him, hungry for his words that always dripped with wisdom and inspiration.
This time, not unlike other times, he began with words that must have startled them: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The disciples knew he was talking about the crowd of poor, dirty, hungry peasants that surrounded them on the hillside. Surely they are not blessed, are they? It’s more like they are cursed.
But he continues, “Blessed are those who mourn . . . blessed are the meek . . . blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” How are those people blessed?
He then blesses the “pure in heart,” which is weird because the cursed are never pure in heart. That’s why they are cursed in the first place! He blesses the “peacemakers,” those who are in the midst of conflict and violence, which again implies that they are cursed, not blessed. Finally, he blesses the persecuted. Need I say more?
So here’s the deal. We all have our special interests. You might be a coin collector, an animal lover, or an advocate for special needs children. You might be a John 3:16 evangelical or a Luke 4 social justice activist. But after today, I hope you will add to your list of special interests: “blesser of the unblessed.”