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Visions from The Catacombs, Week before February 2, 2014

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Matthew 5:1-12

5When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

What I Am Learning:

Jesus knew firsthand about status. When he grew up, he knew that his father Joseph had a low status in the village of Nazareth. Joseph was a carpenter. When we think of carpenters we think of big trucks with locking boxes of tools and a lumber rack on top. In the first-century carpenters were nothing more than lowly “fix-it” people. Their status was just above shepherds and tanners.

So when Joseph when to the marketplace he would look down and wait for those with more status to speak first. As a good son, Jesus would need to mimic his father in this expected behavior.

In this passage, Jesus is not telling us the what we have to do or be to get to heaven. Rather he is virtually destroying the expectations that determined a person’s status. This system of expectations of status is called “the honor system.” People in the first century would have thought that God established the honor system. God had the highest possible honor rating, and everyone was ranked below God. They would have assumed that someone like Joseph deserved his honor rating, and would die with the same rating he had been born with.

This goes for Jesus, too. Jesus would have carried the honor rating or status of his father. By all rights, Jesus should have stayed in Nazareth, fixed broken things and kept his novel ideas to himself.

But of course he didn’t. If he had done what was expected of him, we would not be talking about him.

The passage really should read: “How honorable are the poor in spirit. . .” and so on. Jesus reverses what people normally considered to be honorable. He overturns their expectations of who has high status with God. He proposes that the despised and the lowly and the poor have high honor in God’s eyes – not because God loves those human beings more, but because in that culture they need God's love more.

Perhaps more deeply, in this passage Jesus begins to tear apart the whole notion of status, and to critique any culture that makes some people worth more than others.

He would certainly critique our culture. Today he might say:

How honorable are the losers, for they shall win with God.

How honorable are the overweight, for they are beautiful to God.

How honorable are the jobless, for they have a role in God’s reign.

How honorable are the old, for they share God’s wisdom.

What else would you add to this list?

Perhaps on of the most remarkable things about Jesus was that he recognized his freedom as God’s child to pay no heed to what others thought he should do. He realized that God’s love for him was the only honor or status he needed.

In sharing this speech, he invites us to recognize our freedom—not just a “freedom from” but a "freedom for" deep meaning and purpose and a “freedom with” others to build a world of deep mutuality together.

We are indeed free to be ourselves, and to be the people God is creating us to be.

Let it be so!