Today I’m giving space to Sheridan Voysey, who you may remember from this God and Suffering interview On Broken Dreams and New Beginnings. His memoir, Resurrection Year, has been a real hit, and he has written a new book Resilient: Your Invitation to a Jesus-Shaped Life, which launches on Wednesday October 21 (don’t miss the free giveaways here). Resilient is a book of 90 readings tracing the theme of resilience through the Sermon on the Mount and beyond. Here’s an excerpt.
“God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.”
They gather on the lush, rolling slopes to hear him. He sits down, taking the customary position of a teacher, and looks as many of them in the eye as he can. He has so many things to tell them. A deep draw of breath, and then he begins to talk. “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,” he says, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. . . .”
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably read the Sermon on the Mount’s “God blesses” statements—called the Beatitudes—as a list of virtues Jesus wants us to pursue. So, we think he wants us to be humble (Matthew 5:5), to hunger for justice (5:6), to be merciful (5:7), pure (5:8), and peace-loving (5:9). These are all wonderful qualities to have and are reinforced elsewhere in scripture. And given that Jesus’ Sermon is all about action, it’s a natural way to read these verses.
However, if we’re to be consistent in reading the Beatitudes this way, some of these “virtues” become tricky. Does Jesus really want us to become poor (5:3), to mourn (5:4), or to be persecuted and insulted (5:10–11)? This way of reading the Beatitudes can also lead to a works-based understanding of God’s salvation: only when we are humble, gentle, merciful, and so on, will God then “bless” us.
Perhaps Jesus was making a different point. Luke’s recording of the Beatitudes suggests Jesus wasn’t addressing people who thought they were poor, hungry, or sad, but people who literally were (Luke 6:17–23). This has led scholars like Dallas Willard, Scot McKnight, and others to suggest that Jesus’ Beatitudes are not a list of virtues at all but a list of outcasts rejected by society yet blessed by Jesus.
Those who assembled on the mountain to hear Jesus speak were a motley group indeed: not the happy and successful people of the world, but those who had experienced trials and trouble (Matthew 4:23–25). It was this group of people, those gathered before him, that he blessed: the economically and spiritually impoverished (5:3), the grief-stricken (5:4), the lowly (5:5), those seeking but denied justice (5:6), those who have shown mercy and lived rightly (5:7–8), peacemakers instead of political radicals (5:9), those persecuted for doing right or for following Jesus (5:10–11). All such people were “written off” by both the secular society and the religious elite of Jesus’ day. To worldly leaders who valued strength rather than humility, and compliance to their wishes rather than rebellion for the sake of God, people with these qualities held little value. But they were valuable to Jesus.
If this is what Jesus is saying it means his Sermon begins with a radical idea. It means Jesus ignores the world’s popularity lists. It means he welcomes all who society rejects. The doors to his kingdom are flung open to the sick, the sad, the uneducated, and un-pretty; to the picked on, the beaten up, the socially awkward, and homeless; to pushers, dealers, con artists, killers; to the addicted, or emotionally unstable; to you and to me.
So come, whoever you are.
Jesus takes us all.
Sheridan Voysey is a writer, speaker and broadcaster on faith and spirituality. His sixth book Resilient: Your Invitation to a Jesus-Shaped Life launches this Wednesday October 21, with a bunch of free giveaways to celebrate. Follow Sheridan on Facebook, Twitter, and subscribe to his newsletter for free articles, podcasts, and ebooks.
For my review of the very excellent Resilient, by Sheridan Voysey, click here and scroll down to ‘Books’.
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NB If you buy Resilient before November 1st you get three FREE bonuses – click here for more details.