Down We Go: The Power of the Beatitudes

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By Kathy Escobar | Twitter: @kathyescobar

Sometimes I chuckle when I read the Beatitudes–Jesus’ first words in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3-10.

Here’s a reminder of what they say:

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 children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

They aren’t funny.  But the reason they make me laugh is they remind me that almost everything I was taught in the majority of my initial church experiences were completely contrary to these principles. I was subtly and directly taught to:

“Pull myself up by my bootstraps, believe more, and figure out a way to be strong.”

“Not feel too much because pain is somehow bad.”

“Find ways to rise to the top.”

“Run with the pack and do not question what they tell me to believe.”

“Believe that God helps those who help themselves.”

“Pray harder, memorize more scripture, and keep asking for forgiveness ‘just in case’ there was something still offensive in my heart.”

“Separate myself from the real world and surround myself with other people like me, so I would be protected from harm.”

Of course, no one said these things overtly; they were subtle undertones of strength and put-togetherness that permeates much of contemporary Christian culture.

These Messages are Contrary to the Ways of Jesus

In the spirit of this downwardly mobile conversation, I think it is critically important to acknowledge just how prevalent, powerful—and damaging—these completely-contrary-to-the-Beatitudes messages really are. I know from talking to a lot of people along the way that I’m not the only one who had some of these messages infused into my spirituality.

It’s what Jesus was always working against.

It’s what we’ll always be working against.

Over and over in the gospels, Jesus embodies an upside-down way of living and challenges the status quo—especially the religious status quo. Born to a young unwed mother in a dirty stall, telling all kinds of crazy stories, eating with prostitutes and tax-collectors, washing his followers’ feet, and ultimately hanging on a cross, Jesus was always mixing it up. What should make sense doesn’t, and what doesn’t make sense actually does.

I always say that I love the Beatitudes. And I hate the Beatitudes.

Because they’re hard.

In contemporary culture, these haunting words of Jesus don’t make sense. Success, war, vengeance, power and strength are the guiding principles of our day. Humility, gentleness, desperation, spiritual poverty, advocating for justice and being persecuted for standing on the side of the oppressed are sure to make us inconvenienced, challenged and humbled.

Becoming People of Humility, Risk, Hope and Courage

But who said this journey was about being prepared, secure and sure?

The faith I see in the Bible is far riskier, scarier and less certain than what’s been modeled to me in many past church experiences. The New Testament is filled with people giving up all sorts of things that protected them in order to live out the crazy ways of Jesus after he left this earth.

I chose this downward path because this is the kind of person I want to be.

I want the Beatitudes to be embedded in the fabric of my heart and practice.

I want to be a person of humility, willing to give up my safety and comfort for the sake of others.

I want to be a person who risks, engaging in the dangerous work of living the Bible, instead of only learning about it.

I want to be a person of hope, sacrificing my current circumstances to participate in building a better future.

I want to be a person of courage, boldly practicing love.

Questions:

– What are some of your thoughts about the Beatitudes?

– What do they stir up in you?

(Image credit: Pinterest)

About Kathy:

Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, an eclectic faith community in North Denver dedicated to those on the margins of life and faith. She blogs regularly about life and faith at www.kathyescobar.com and just released a new book called, Down We Go–Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus in Action. She lives in Arvada, Colorado with her husband, Jose, and five kids.

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Idelette McVicker
I like soggy cereal and I would like to go to every spot on the map of the earth to meet our world’s women. I dream of a world where no women or girls are for sale. I dream of a world where women and men are partners in doing the work that brings down a new Heaven on earth. My word last year was “roar” and I learned it’s not about my voice rising as much as it is about our collective voices rising in unison to bring down walls of injustice. This year, my own word is “soar.” I have three children and this place–right here, called shelovesmagazine.com–is my fourth baby. I am African, although my skin colour doesn’t tell you that story. I am also a little bit Chinese, because my heart lives there amongst the tall skyscrapers of Taipei and the mountains of Chiufen. Give me sweet chai and I think I’m in heaven. I live in Vancouver, Canada and I pledged my heart to Scott 11 years ago. I believe in kindness and calling out the song in each other’s hearts. I also believe that Love covers–my gaps, my mistakes and the distances between us. I blog at idelette.com and tweet @idelette.
Idelette McVicker

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  • Kelley Johnson Nikondeha

    Kathy – I so agree with you on the good / hard words of the Beatitudes. They are words spoken to the poor – not just spiritually poor but the economically down and out. The words challenge my American Dream assumptions about how to understand the good life – what it looks like and who is eligible for entrance. I have really allowed these images to poke and prod me ever since I first read Dallas Willard’s commentary on The Sermon on the Mount in Divine Conspiracy – it began a quiet revolution in my heart and mind!

    My culture, in church and out, tell me that the good life is something you work hard to attain and maintain with good works and good stuff. It is exclusive – not everyone can get in the front door of the good life. But the Beatitudes push these subtly ingested learnings on their head… we are all invited into the good life of God, there is no bouncer at the door, no velvet rope keeping us out in the parking lot, no message from Jesus that we are not good enough yet. He has said we – broken, poor, grieving and persecuted are welcome. And the good life looks so different from the upwardly mobile life so many churches preach / model in my country. It is about forgiving enemies, feeling the depth of grief without apology, enduring persecution, seeking justice in real ways, experiencing joy… being human and being with God.

    Love your reminder today, Kathy. We have been invited into a counter-intuitive life of goodness…

    • It’s hard to even understand the kind of humility Jesus preached, let alone practice it, when you so absorbed in “Looking Out for Number 1”, as the giant best seller of a couple decades ago implored Americans they must do to survive in our materialist world.

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