January 19, 2021

Doing Jesus’ work in Jesus’ way

Prophet Jeremiah, Chagall

The Prophet Jeremiah, Chagall

The Beatitudes Jesus taught come to us in two parts.

The first four Beatitudes describe the surprising recipients of God’s favor.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit
  • Blessed are those who mourn
  • Blessed are the meek
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice

These are the ones most people consider at the bottom of society’s pecking order. They represent people who are on the fringes, whose life seems destined for sorrow and failure, who find themselves without power, and who are crying out for justice in their unjust circumstances. The systems of this world are stacked against them. Nobody wants their life. Nobody makes it their ambition to go down the path they’re on. They are empty, bereft, powerless, and oppressed. No one would consider them life’s “winners.”

When Jesus pronounces them blessed, he evokes the mission he proclaimed in Luke 4:18-19 —

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Though the world neglects them, God has set his attention upon them. Though the powerful ignore them, God has come to walk with them in Jesus. Though life and its structures seem to offer them little hope, God is acting to redeem them and make their lives new. Though religion has taught them that righteousness would bring them blessing and prosperity, they haven’t seen a pay-off. They remain poor, sad, weak, and exploited. Nevertheless, God has destined them to receive his favor.

In other words, the first part of the Beatitudes is the gospel, good news directed particularly at those who have nothing but bad news in their lives.

This is the surprising thing about these sayings. One might have expected that Messiah would come to the religious leaders, to the powerful, the gifted, those with the resources and connections to “make things happen” in the world, so that God’s Kingdom could come in power and glory. However, from the beginning Jesus surprised the people in authority by directing his message to the most unlikely to succeed. To be sure, Jesus came for everyone, but he came with a special focus on the poor to reveal the extent of God’s love, grace, and transforming power and to undercut the false messages of glory that were (and remain) pervasive.

That brings us to the second part of the Beatitudes. These have a different focus.

  • Blessed are the merciful
  • Blessed are the pure in heart
  • Blessed are the peacemakers
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake

No longer is Jesus talking about those who are poor and oppressed. Instead, he is speaking to those who are trying to do something about the poor and oppressed. He is addressing those who are trying to make the world a better place, to bring healing and comfort to the kinds of people who are mentioned in the first half of the Beatitudes.

But the thing is, they are not doing it from positions of power and authority. They are not using the methods and tactics of the world to try and solve the world’s problems.

  • Instead of pronouncing judgment, they are exercising mercy.
  • Instead of focusing on the faults of others, they are trying to keep their own hearts pure.
  • Instead of fighting, they are working to make peace.
  • And as a result, instead of being honored, they are being ridiculed and even persecuted for trying to do what they think is right.

Jesus is pronouncing blessing on the prophets of this world who have always found themselves outside the system, without access to the halls of power. They have the ability to make the powerful uncomfortable because they see through the B.S. and the false agendas and manipulations inherent in the “accepted wisdom.” Instead, they see straight to the heart and focus their efforts on the heart of the problem. The world takes little notice of them except to laugh at them and consider them “ineffective” because they do not wield power and authority. If they become too much of a nuisance, however, it’s a different story. Then the world starts to pick up stones. Or hammers and nails.

In these Beatitudes, Jesus joins their company as the last and greatest of the prophets, the merciful, pure, peacemaking King who was persecuted, suffered, and died.

In other words, the Beatitudes are about:

  • the unlikely people Jesus came to bring good news to, and
  • the unlikely way in which he (and others) would bring them that news.

I’m struck especially by the second point today.

The engines of power and violence seem to be revving up a bit more around the world after last week’s horrific events throughout the Middle East and Europe. I’m not smart enough to know what to do about any of that.

But I know what Jesus wants me to do today. He set the pattern: Bring good news to the poor. Be merciful. Keep my heart pure. Make peace.

Oh, and I guess from what he says I’d better watch my back too.


  1. We all think that we are the favored of God, we ALL think that we are the “blessed”Sadly, we are all focused on ourselves. We may BELIEVE that we are on God’s side, but a little self awareness, please…

  2. Thanks, Mike. I like what you have written here very much. Have a great week!

  3. The smallest act of love matters. It has a real effect even if it is unseen. In a quantum physics sort of beauty it ripples into the world unknown but to God and the communion of saints who take note. That is comforting for everyone who lives on the sidelines of power. What I do matters. No need for it to be applauded or recognized. Grace is everywhere.
    P.S. Hi JoanieD! Long time no see.

  4. I believe that would preach. Thank you.

  5. Chaplain Mike, thanks for this insight…and reminder. At the end of the day, we are all probably the first 4–even if it doesn’t look like it, and hopefully, we can all be, in some way, shape, or form, the last 4. Ahhh, this starts my day off blessed!

  6. I love Jesus. He is Lord and Savior. He is MY Lord and Savior. And He’s such a great TEACHER. My take-away: “You are blessed, so be a blessing.”

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