Jesus has been hanging out around Richmond, doing some miracles, recruiting followers and attracting a lot of attention. The religious leaders in town are not pleased. Big shot representatives from St. James’s Episcopal, First Baptist, Centenary United Methodist and other “important” churches have sought him out to ask him challenging questions and to publicly dispute Jesus’ claims about himself. But these big shots are not the only ones who have heard of Jesus. Other people, less important people, have been healed and they are calling their friends and family members all over Virginia.
So, after awhile Jesus escapes to Afton Mountain, where he can take a breather and regroup from all the attention that has been given him. He gathers himself, and then comes down to Greenwood to teach his disciples. When he gets down here, he realizes that huge crowds have gathered. These aren’t the same stentorian religious leaders that challenged him so decorously in Richmond. This is a ragtag group from all over the state. People have packed up meals for several days and walked from Tidewater, from Alexandria, from south Boston, even from Wise. Hearing stories of healing, they come seeking an encounter with the living God, hoping to see a miracle or be healed themselves.
In this crowd are the unemployed, meth addicts, migrant workers, high school dropouts, the terminally ill, the elderly, children skipping school, widows, and of course, the curious. This is not a group you would want to bring home to your mother. You’re in the group, too. But, you never went to college or got the job you had now. You never fell in love, got married and had children. You’re pretty lonely and you’re definitely broke. You look around at the people surrounding you and you start to laugh because they are so pitiful. You’re pitiful. Finally, Jesus arrives and when he starts speaking, the hairs on the back of you neck rise.
Your whole life you have been led to believe that the blessed are those who have a steady income, and family that loves them. You believed that the blessed are those in power, who drive fancy cars. You believe that the blessed are those who never shed a tear and cruise along in life without any challenges.
Imagine your surprise you over hear Jesus say the following sentences to his disciples.
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
These words of Jesus pierce your heart. He is calling you blessed, your life blessed.
Your whole life you have been told that you aren’t worth anything, because you’ve never achieved anything the world considers valuable. Yet this holy man, who has the power to heal, the power to do miracles is choosing to call you blessed. Jesus is saying that you are loved by God, favored by God.
Next, Jesus’ words get even stranger.
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
Jesus is flipping everything your culture believes on its ear. You can hear the murmurs in the crowd, especially from the folks who have a little money. They don’t really like what they are hearing.
You on the other hand, are too busy having your mind blown to murmur. Your whole concept of who God is and what God is like and what the kingdom of God will be like is being turned topsy turvy. You start to understand that just because your church or your society says something about God or about you, does not mean it is true. You start to understand that God’s values are about relationship rather than acquisition. You start to understand all the great stuff rich people have, rather than being a reward from God, can actually function as a block between people and God.
You watch some of these rich folks as they realize the cost of following Jesus. Some of them are up for the challenge. They know that a relationship with God is such an incredible, unique experience that in perspective, money and possessions aren’t that big a deal. You can tell other folks are really weighing their options. It is not easy to create a life that is rich of wonderful experiences and possessions. That kind of a life takes years of effort, hard work, and sacrifices. Following Jesus has no guarantees of earthly pleasure or reward. A third group of rich people do not need any time to think. They walk away, convinced Jesus is a nut.
They don’t quite understand, like you do, this blessedness that Jesus describes is the deepest kind of well-being that exists. Blessedness is a kind of well being that no material object can match. Blessedness is being loved not for what you have acquired or what you have done, but for being exactly who you are. Blessedness fills the deepest sadnesses of our hearts with joy. Blessedness is undeserved, unasked for and always surprising. Blessedness forces us to acknowledge that all the “stuff” of this life is just. . .”stuff”, ephemeral and transitory. In contrast, blessedness is eternal and real.
Blessedness turns the world upside down and forces us to look at life an entirely different way. Blessedness is grace.
As you watch all the different reactions to Jesus, you process what you are seeing and you understand that the real blessedness comes from knowing Jesus better, from being in relationship with God. So, when Jesus leaves Greenwood, you follow him. You don’t pack up your things, you don’t say your goodbyes, you just follow him, so your journey of blessedness can begin.