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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, November 5, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Matthew 5:1–12

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

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

Early Jesus followers would have understood the importance of location. That Jesus went up to the mountain links him to Jewish ancestors—specifically Moses. Like Moses went to the mountain to receive instruction, Jesus goes to the mountain to offer the focus of his teaching. He isn’t there to replace the Torah but to interpret it through his life. There is a formulaic structure to the beatitudes. Each one begins with “blessed,” which is sometimes translated as “happy.” And if we ascribe our modern understanding to those words, well, Jesus’ focus seems to imply that we should feel happy or joyful for situations that don’t feel all that desirable.

A better understanding would be flourishing, contentment, or a sense of well-being. Yet somehow that doesn’t feel a lot better. Does Jesus’ teaching really imply that we should be content in undesirable situations until we reach the afterlife? This is not feeling like Good News.

The word translated as “blessed” does not have an exact one-to-one translation into English. The word means a contentment from being in relationship with God. It is the assurance of being seen, known, and held by God. And it is the proclamation that the way things are is not what God intends. The kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims sets things in the order that God desires. This isn’t an afterlife promise but an admonition to make it so here and now.

In my times of mourning and persecution, my comfort comes from knowing that God sees me and desires something different. For that I can be blessed and content. God desires this for all people. For that I can be challenged to make it so.

God of all, assure me of your presence in all situations. Ignite in me a desire to bring about your kingdom here and now for all people. Amen.

Written by Andrea Denney, Executive Director of Operational Ministries

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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