Here’s what I think was happening on that hillside.
Jesus sat down up on a hillside. His closest friends came and sat down with him. He looked around at their faces. He looked around at their hearts. And he knew what was in each.
And he started to talk. As he looked first at one of the disciples, one that everyone knew was struggling with a really bad sense of himself. He was constantly despairing of ever measuring up spiritually in this group.
Jesus looked into the disciple’s face and said, “blessed are the poor in spirit.” The disciple looked up, full of hollowness. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
And in that moment, that disciple found a glimmer of hope. Not in what he’d done or because he had emptied himself. His hope was in recognizing that he WAS empty and recognizing that God wanted to fill him and recognizing that God, Jesus, was looking him in the eyes. Without cringing or flinching or scolding.
And so we can read through these nine statements of blessing, of affirmation from Jesus as offerings of hope rather than more things to do, as more standards that we cannot hope to achieve.
We can start reading them something like this:
You are feeling like you have nothing to offer, like you are at a party where everyone else brings cool gifts and you are still waiting for your last paycheck and so have nothing. God offers you everything of his.
You think about how you have done wrong and how often you have messed up, and it makes you want to cry sometimes. Rather than piling on guilt, God offers you his shoulder and his comfort.
You watch other people push to the front with all the “right answers” and you stand back along the edges of the crowd, scuffing your toes in the dirt, uncertain.
God looks straight in your eyes and offers you everything that matters in the whole world.
You want to live the right way so much you can taste it sometimes. You have a dull ache in your chest because you so much want to be clean, finally, really clean. You don’t want to fill that ache with products that promise everything and are empty boxes themselves.
And God offers you a seat at his table.
Everyone tells you to give those, um, people what they deserve, and you know you want to, but you just can’t. You have this need to cut them slack.
You try to stay clean. You try to do things for the right reasons. When you look in the mirror and have questions about your motives, you don’t do whatever it is you are wondering about. (But doesn’t everyone think that way?)
You can’t stand watching people fight, and so you wade into the middle. But instead of just getting them to stopping fighting, you start building bridges between them.
You do great stuff. You care deeply. And instead of thanking you, people pick on you. Mercilessly. Rudely. Maliciously.
You think all this is no big deal. You do it because it’s right. You don’t see the connection between any of this and following God.
But it is following God. And Jesus says you are are blessed. And Jesus will comfort you and care for you and show you mercy and give you all of heaven.