A man walked into a bookstore to return a Bible.
“Was it a gift?” asked the clerk.
“No, I bought it for myself, but I made a mistake,” said the man.
“Did you not like the translation or the format?”
“Oh no,” said the man, “The format was clear and the translation was fine.”
Then the clerk said, “Well, I need to record a reason for the return.”
“In that case,” the man said, “write down that there is a lot in that book, which is tough to swallow.”
For many, Jesus' words of blessings and woes are tough to swallow.
Let's begin with the context. Jesus went up on the mountain where he prayed all night. In the morning, he called his disciples and chose 12 to be apostles.
Then he went down with them to serve people who had gathered. After healing the sick, he speaks to his disciples about the blessings and woes of life.
Jesus does not minimize the conditions of the poor, hungry, weeping and hatred. He himself experienced poverty, hunger, sorrow and hatred. Roman soldiers bartered his garments. To his disciples, he said, “Blessed are you who are poor.” The Last Supper was on Thursday evening. Jesus died Friday evening on an empty stomach. To his disciples, he said, “Blessed are you who hunger now.” Jesus wept in the Garden of Gethsemane. To his disciples, he said, “Blessed are you when you weep.” Jesus died as a hated man. The crowds chanted, “Crucify him!” To his disciples, he said, “Blessed are you when men hate you on account of me.”
These words were originally addressed to the 12 disciples who have left families, careers and securities to follow Jesus and make disciples of all nations. But they also testify to a new day that has come and a new kingdom that is coming. It is today that Jesus pronounces his blessings on you who are poor, hungry, sorrowful and hated. You are within God's gracious compassion and eternal love. The Beatitudes are an admonition to live for Jesus and his kingdom and not for self and the world.
We have been conditioned all our lives to work hard, acquire wealth and provide for ourselves. But these beatitudes turn all of that upside down. E. Stanley Jones, was was once asked, “What do you think of the Beatitudes?” He replied: "At first sight, you feel they turned everything upside down. At second sight, you understand that they turn everything right side up. The first time you read them they are impossible. The second time you read them, nothing else is possible. The beatitudes are not a chart for Christian duty. They are a charter for Christian liberty.”
Here is the good news: If God has lovingly embraced you as his own; the world can’t snatch that away. When you are put down, remember that in Christ there is a love that will not let you go. Thanks to God’s love, we are a died-for-people, purchased with Jesus’ own blood, offered freely on the Cross. Nobody can cancel God’s claim on your life and mine.
Before Mother Teresa died, she was asked, “Why do you spend so much energy on the poor, the hungry, and the weeping of Calcutta?” She replied, “Don’t you believe the Bible? Jesus says the poor are the blessed ones. I take him at his word.”
If you can swallow these words, then you understand God's kingdom view. Jesus said, "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.”
To God, be the glory!
Wallace Jordan is a retired Baptist minister. A guest sermon runs regularly in Saturday’s Guardian and is provided through Christian Communications.