Palm Sunday ushered us into this week we call “holy.” In a previous post titled Making This a Holy Week, I sketched the choreography of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and the spiritual themes that pulse through these days. This year, I want to offer a short meditation on one of Jesus’s most provocative teachings.
In his gospel, Matthew describes Jesus’s extended desert experience of fasting and prayer, after which, Jesus shows up in Galilee and begins teaching, preaching and healing. The heart of his message ̶ change how you think and live because the kingdom of heaven, the realm of God’s good rule, is now underway. People flock to him from everywhere.
One day, he climbs partway up a mountain slope and sits to teach his followers. He opens with eight declarations of blessing —the beatitudes—that convey the core values of the new kingdom. But they are counterintuitive, even radical . To take them seriously is to be unsettled, to say the least. You can find them in Matthew 5:1-10.
The first four focus more on our inward posture toward God.
Blessed are the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Think about what these mean:
- Those who admit they are spiritually destitute and dependent
- Those who grieve over their sinfulness and over the brokenness of the world
- Those who choose to be gentle, undemanding, non-assertive
- Those who ache with a holy longing to see all things made right, starting with themselves.
I have a hard time being this way, especially in a culture that extolls having lots of things, finding happiness, standing up for oneself, and satisfying every desire. We value independence and self-reliance and success.
Which is why I am grateful for the tradition of Lent, the period of six weeks that precedes Holy Week. Every year, I try to deliberately follow Jesus into the desert as I fast and examine my heart and wrestle with my temptations. And I attempt to consciously follow Jesus toward the cross as I think about his suffering for us and for the world. Lent and Holy Week allow us to push the reset button on the underlying spiritual disposition we want to be true all year.
The second four beatitudes focus more on our outward posture toward others.
Blessed are the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers…those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Same problem. I have a hard time being this way:
- I am prone to judging and find it shamefully easy to ignore the needy.
- I readily say nice things to people that exceed the sincerity of my heart.
- I’m reluctant to wade into conflicts and controversies lest I get chewed up.
- I avoid saying or doing things that could result in rejection or embarrassment.
But think about Jesus in the last week of his life. He completely humbled himself before God—in Gethsemane, at Golgotha. He embodied a spirit of mercy and integrity and peace toward those confronting him. And he stood ready to suffer unspeakably for the sake of righteousness and love.
This week, Jesus is saying to us once again: Embrace my teaching and embody my values. Emulate my example and echo my message. Deny yourself, risk hardship, follow me.
With audacity, Jesus promises a great reversal. For each self-denying, God-honoring, other-deferring posture, he assures blessing. We will experience the kingdom of God, partially now and fully in the age to come. We will see God and be filled with God. We will know God’s comfort and mercy as his children. In short, we will join Jesus in resurrection, the greatest of all reversals!
So, friends, find opportunities to contemplate Jesus this week, either alone or in worship with others. Make the week holy. Choose to deepen your trust and renew your allegiance. And then, come Easter, may you experience a surge of joy and gratitude and renewed life in celebrating the Risen One!