Lenten Devotional 2021: Day 13

Monday, March 1 – Written by Rev. Adam Hanley

A Laundry List of God’s Grace – Matthew 5:1-12

Photo credit: Adam Hanley

The fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew begins one of the most famous speeches of Jesus: the Sermon on the Mount. His sermon begins with these verses, which are often referred to as the Beatitudes:

“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 receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

While you may be familiar with this biblical text, you might also remember the Monty Python version of this text where the list of blessings is misheard as, “blessed are the cheese-makers.”

In this week’s chapter of We Make the Road by Walking, McLaren helps to paint the picture of what it might have been like on a Galilean hillside. I vividly remember being along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I went in my UCC work role to meet with United Church partners in Palestine and Israel a few years ago. I was there in early June and the sun was hotter than anything we experience during a Canadian summer. The air in the Galilee region of Israel was so warm that when the wind blew it felt like the inside of a convection oven. But the vegetation was lush along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and the water felt refreshing. The modern-day picture here might help you imagine what it would have been like to be in that place listening to Jesus.

As beautiful and sacred as the land is where Jesus spoke, it is the teachings of this wise rabbi that we are left with. While we may find comfort in these words as we make our way, I’m not sure we always grasp the radical nature of Jesus words. These phrases show us how Jesus challenges our understandings of power and privilege in the world. They illustrate how God’s way can turn things inside out. As we follow in God’s way, McLaren argues that, “We must choose a different definition of well-being, a different model of success, a new identity with a new set of values.”

As we discern how God’s way will look in our own lives, we can read these phrases of Jesus again and look for hope. The list of blessings is like a laundry list of God’s grace. No matter, how you find yourself – grieving, poor, persecuted – God has not abandoned you. Even if you aren’t feeling marginalized, there’s still hope in these blessings. If you are involved in the work of peacemaking or if you are a caregiver, Jesus promises that God’s grace will be showered upon you. And these blessings aren’t because of anything we have done; they are given freely out of God’s abundant love.

Almighty God,
you walk with the meek and the poor,
the compassionate and those who mourn,
and you call us to walk humbly with you.
We seek to make the way with you,
because no matter how we find ourselves,
we are blessed in your eyes. Amen.