Jesus can see the desperation in the eyes of the crowd, their longing, their bleeding heart, their frantic need for transformation, so Jesus climbs up the mountainside with his group of newbie disciples and begins to teach. The first words that tumble out of Jesus’ mouth are words of blessing, proclaiming these weeping, yearning, hopeful, tender people blessed. Jesus sees how quick the world is to say: buck up and get over it, peacemaking is a waste of time, showing emotion is a sign of weakness, arrogance is the key to success and never let them see you sweat.
Jesus sees how often the world sends these messages and Jesus counters them by blessing people who are grieving, making peace, softening their hearts and admitting their limitations. In response to the world’s false narratives, I imagine Jesus praying, “Restore to us our tenderness.”
Restore to us our tenderness in a world that prioritizes harshness, violence and apathy.
I imagine Jesus prays this because Jesus has such a gentleness to him, an unwavering gentleness. Jesus stops an entire funeral parade to look a weeping widow in the eye. Amidst people complaining that he did not observe Sabbath rest rigidly enough, Jesus pauses and heals a person on the Sabbath so that they would not have to suffer anymore. The night that Jesus is betrayed, Jesus literally lets us see him sweat as he prays for God to take this cup of suffering away. Then Jesus’ good friend Judas, who Jesus has spent years with, just hands Jesus straight over to Jesus’ enemies. People make false accusations and vote to give Jesus the death penalty. In this heartbreaking moment, Jesus softens his heart instead of hardening it. From the very cross, Jesus forgives those who harm him. In the last, most trying moment of his life, it was as if Jesus is stilling praying, “Restore to us our tenderness …”
“Restore to us our tenderness ….”
It is as if Jesus spent his whole life trying to teach us something about compassion, about grace, about empathy …
Instead of telling people to buck up and get over it, Jesus honors the pain of those around him and speaks words of love. Jesus plops down on the mountainside and begins lavishly handing out blessings like they grow on trees. Jesus does this to reclaim the meaning of the word blessed … the word blessed was never meant to mean that God has granted us cash prizes or fancy cars … instead the word blessed means that even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death God journeys with us. Jesus looks us in the eye in the midst of our desperation and says: I see you. I love you. I am with you.
Jesus’ blessings are not meant to serve as a list of criteria. Jesus is not telling us that we can only receive God’s blessing if we are “meeker, poorer and mournier”[i] than the rest. Jesus’ words are performative rather than instructive, meaning that it is the words themselves that convey the blessing. Jesus is telling us: no matter what valley you walk down, no matter how desperate or heartbroken you are, you are blessed.
Do you know that?
As we soak in Jesus’ words, I thought it might be meaningful to have some modern beatitudes for this day, this place, these people. Because I like to imagine Jesus standing among us saying:
Blessed are those who are poor in spirit: the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those who don’t have it all together.[ii] Blessed are those who feel like their faith is worthless and they have so many questions and doubts they are not sure if they can believe.[iii] Blessed are they who aren’t so sure, they that can still be surprised.[iv] Blessed are the receptive. Blessed are the little kids who keep asking “Why?” Blessed are those who don’t know what to think and therefore not so certain that they stop taking in new information. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.[v]
Blessed are those who are mourning: they will be consoled.
Blessed are those for whom death is not an abstraction.[vi] Blessed are those who feel like their grief is going to swallow them whole.[vii] Blessed are those who have buried their loved ones, those for whom tears are as real as the river. Blessed are those who know what it is to keep vigil at a hospital bed. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet”.[viii] Blessed is every single grieving person we have ever prayed for. Blessed are those who smile again when they thought they never would. Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are those who are gentle: they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who say I need help and I don’t know how I am going to get through this. Blessed are those who give hugs when they see others cry. Blessed are those who cry. Blessed are those who say, I messed up. Blessed are those who speak kind words when they see we are experiencing pain. Blessed are those who sit with us even when they don’t have anything to say. Blessed are the gentle. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice: they shall have their fill.
Blessed are those who hunger for the common good and aren’t satisfied with the status quo. Blessed are those who ache because of how severely off kilter our world is.[ix] Blessed are the families fleeing war-torn areas, leaving behind homes, loved ones and a way of life. Blessed are the parents who can’t afford to feed their children. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and for actual food. Blessed are they who know there has to be more than this. Because they are right.[x]
Blessed are those who show mercy to others: they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are those who stumble, trip and fall in the same place again and again.[xi] Blessed are those who see how messed we each are and say “I forgive you” four hundred and ninety times because that is how many times it takes for us to get it right. Blessed are the ones who have received such real grace that they no longer meter out judgments. Blessed is everyone who has ever forgiven me. Blessed are the merciful for they totally get it.[xii]
Blessed are those whose hearts are clean: they will see God.
Blessed are those who are single-minded about planting seeds of God’s love. Blessed are those who make terrible business decisions for the sake of people.[xiii] Blessed are those who go on hunger strikes to remind us that there is a better way to live and love. Blessed are those who sing because they cannot keep quiet. Blessed are those who keep planting trees because they believe one day we will treat the earth with the care it deserves. Blessed are the children who yearn for a world of kindness and good manners. Blessed are the pure in heart for they remind us: God is here.
I like to imagine Jesus here blessing us because that is the kind of God we serve. Maybe the first time Jesus blesses us isn’t in the beatitudes, maybe it is in Jesus’ life. When the going gets tough, God softens God’s heart and comes down to dwell with us in the most vulnerable of ways: a newborn baby. God comes in the form of a baby to restore to us our tenderness. God comes in the form of Jesus to teach us that, when the going gets tough, we walk more slowly, forgive more freely, look people in their eye, see their profound child of God-ness and say like Jesus, “I see you. I bless you.” For blessing is not about cash prizes or a fancy car, it is the knowledge that God is with you in the deepest valley.
Jesus comes to us as God’s beatitude – God’s blessing to the suffering parts of us in a world that admires the strong and the stone-faced.
Jesus comes to us and through Jesus’ very life says to us:
You who weep,
You who are not over it,
You who are unsure,
You who keep messing up,
You who yearn for a better world,
You who keep dancing and dreaming,
You who are single-minded in your quest to love,
You who hand out food and dollar bills to strangers on the streets,
You whose heart is bleeding,
You who are desperate,
You are blessed.
Do you know that?
[i] Bolz Weber, N. “Some Modern Beatitudes – A Sermon for All Saints Sunday.” Patheos: Hosting the Christian Faith. November 6, 2014. Accessed January 24, 2017. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2014/11/some-modern-beatitudes-a-sermon-for-all-saints-sunday/.
[iii] This modern beatitude was written by the Reverend Kristen Corr Rod.
[iv] Bolz Weber, N. “Some Modern Beatitudes – A Sermon for All Saints Sunday.” Patheos: Hosting the Christian Faith. November 6, 2014. Accessed January 24, 2017. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2014/11/some-modern-beatitudes-a-sermon-for-all-saints-sunday/.
[vii] This modern beatitude was written by the Reverend Kristen Corr Rod.
[viii] Bolz Weber, N. “Some Modern Beatitudes – A Sermon for All Saints Sunday.” Patheos: Hosting the Christian Faith. November 6, 2014. Accessed January 24, 2017. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2014/11/some-modern-beatitudes-a-sermon-for-all-saints-sunday/.
[ix] Adopted from a modern beatitude by Rob Bell.
[x] Bolz Weber, N. “Some Modern Beatitudes – A Sermon for All Saints Sunday.” Patheos: Hosting the Christian Faith. November 6, 2014. Accessed January 24, 2017. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2014/11/some-modern-beatitudes-a-sermon-for-all-saints-sunday/.
[xi] This modern beatitude was written by Rob Bell.
[xii] Bolz Weber, N. “Some Modern Beatitudes – A Sermon for All Saints Sunday.” Patheos: Hosting the Christian Faith. November 6, 2014. Accessed January 24, 2017. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2014/11/some-modern-beatitudes-a-sermon-for-all-saints-sunday/.