Consider the Beatitudes Jesus’ inaugural address. These lines open Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, his most expansive teaching on how to live as God’s people. Before giving the famous address, Jesus has been baptized, acknowledged as Son of God, and he’s been tested through temptation in the wilderness. He has been through several cities teaching in synagogues and performing miraculous healings.
He’s been on the campaign trail.
Now, to the people who’ve taken an interest and begun to follow, Jesus gives a message stating his vision, an inaugural address as King of God’s kingdom.
“Happy are people who are hopeless…” Jesus begins.
The key word of the beatitudes, often translated, “blessed,” does not have an easy English equivalent. It can be compared to the word “congratulations!” What Jesus calls “blessed” or “happy” in these lines are not typically things for which we congratulate people:
Congratulations! You’re hopeless. Congratulations! you’ve been taken advantage of because of your humility, your pure heart, your commitment to peace in a society of war.
With the hook of his sermon, Jesus establishes trust with the most vulnerable. Jesus says, “I see you in a way that neither the religious leaders nor the government have seen you. The world sees you as less-than, but I see you as happy, blessed. I believe you are whole. In God’s kingdom, you sit at the head of the table.”
Jesus calls us to expand our understanding of blessing and the conditions for happiness. Jesus gives us a God’s-eye-view of the world in which we live.
This is also a call to expand our vision beyond self. A crowd was following Jesus. When Jesus says, “Happy are you,” in our Bible, he’s actually saying “Happy are y’all,” really, Greek has “y’all”! No matter which of the beatitudes may tell your story, there is someone else’s story here, too. We are called to look around the crowd of listeners and wonder, “Who is Jesus blessing? Who is my neighbor? How is my happiness bound up in theirs?”
Consider the inaugural address that the USA heard on January 20th. President Trump was clear about his audience: American citizens, those who’ve been overlooked and forgotten economically. Trump promises to these listeners:
“I will fight for you with every breath in my body. I will never, ever let you down […] You will never be ignored again.”
Trump is clear about his vision: “America first,” with borders, trade, international relations.
As Christians, we are called to hear political speech through the lens of Jesus’ speech. We are called to pray for our government. We are also called to have a broader vision than that of our governors.
When we hear, “You will never be ignored again,” we ask, “What about y’all?” Who is being ignored? To whom does Jesus say, “Happy are people who grieve…” because they grieve that their mother and father will be deported, or that their children will no longer be able to seek refugee protection, or that industry has left their town and left them poor and no one has seemed to notice?
When we hear “America first,” we ask, “Who is my neighbor?”
When we hear, “The carnage stops now,” we ask, “Who are the peacemakers? How can I make peace in my neighborhood?”
May the beatitudes be the lens through which we see all of life, through which we see our neighbors, and through which we live and respond as citizens in the world. May there be happiness, on earth as it is in heaven.