All Saints Day
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Usually when someone says that they’re “blessed,” it means that things are going pretty well for them. Their health is great, their financial situation is solid, they’ve got a close family or faithful friends. They’re blessed. Life is good for them. No one who just got a cancer diagnosis or lost their job talks about how blessed they are. However, in today’s Gospel Jesus lays down a different kind of blessedness that the world cannot understand, for it is to be found only in the crucified One, who is the embodiment of all these words.
The world says, “Blessed are those whose spiritual principles have brought them success and self-satisfaction in life.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in the spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To be poor in spirit is to have a contrite and repentant heart. It is to know that you’re a poor sinner, with no spiritual power of your own. It is to stand before God not in pride but in humility, with nothing to give and everything to receive from His gracious hand. Those who are poor in spirit have no source of security within themselves, but in Jesus alone. They believe the words of today’s Psalm, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Jesus made Himself poor for our sakes. He was lowly and crushed in spirit. Though without sin, He shared fully in our weaknesses and suffering in order to redeem us. He cares for the poor and the lowly and the distressed and the hurting. Through His poverty we have become rich, heirs of the kingdom of heaven, lavished with His extravagant forgiveness and mercy and life. The poor in spirit trust that through their baptism into Christ, they will share forever with Him in His resurrection and the treasures of heaven. They pin all their hopes on Him, and so they are blessed.
The world says, “Blessed are those who are carefree, who are always enjoying themselves.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” By mourning, Jesus doesn’t only mean sorrowing over those who have died. He also means sorrowing over the fallen state of this world and the judgment that will soon come upon it. Those who mourn refuse to be in tune with the world, refuse to accommodate to its standards, refuse to just go with the flow. The followers of Jesus see beyond the facade and the lies of the culture. They know that the time is growing short and the coming of Christ is close at hand. Jesus’ disciples mourn for a world that is deceived and dying. While others try to ignore reality and achieve their “best life now,” Christ’s disciples wait in hope of a new and better life. Their comfort comes from Him who mourned over Jerusalem, who longs for His wayward people to return to Him, whose heart is overflowing with compassion for us in our affliction and sorrow. Those who follow the Crucified and Risen One find their comfort in His words, which give them strength to endure, and so they are blessed.
The world says, “Blessed are the strong, the mighty, the powerful, the intimidating, for they rise to the top.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Meekness here doesn’t mean weakness. Meekness has to do with the strength of self-control, not having to lash out every time you’re disrespected, not always having to assert your rights and get your way. When the disciples of Jesus are struck on one cheek, they offer the other. When robbed of their cloak, they surrender their tunic. When cursed, they bless. They love their enemies, and they do good to those who hate them. They pray for those who slander and defame them. They do not make a scene when they suffer injustice. They do not seek revenge, but leave vengeance to God.
For this is how it was with Jesus. He was struck and beaten without retaliating. He gave up His clothing to the soldiers who took it from Him. He prayed for those who nailed Him to the cross, saying, “Father, forgive them.” The power of God is hidden in the meekness of Christ’s death.
Baptized into that meekness, Jesus’ disciples trust in the promise that they shall inherit the earth. What the strong and the violent now possess by force will be given as an inheritance to those who belong to Jesus. In the new creation the power of the cross will be revealed in the resurrection of the faithful. The last will be first, the humble will be exalted, and so they are blessed.
The world says, “Blessed are you when you are overflowing with self-esteem, when you have achieved self-fulfillment, when you are content with your spiritual condition.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”
The disciples of Jesus renounce their own righteousness. For everything they do still bears the stain of sin. They yearn for a righteousness that cannot be produced from within. They hunger for living Bread and thirst for living water. The disciples recognize that they now live in a wilderness.
Nothing this world offers can satisfy; only Jesus can. Jesus’ disciples trust in Him who died in thirst. They live entirely on His promise that “they shall be filled” with a righteousness not their own–fed by the Bread of Life, given to drink of His cup of salvation. Jesus gives His disciples His own body to eat and His own blood to drink. He fills them with His righteousness, His perfect life and death and resurrection, the only righteousness that satisfies eternally, and so they are blessed.
The world says, “Blessed are those who hold on to their own pride and honor, who look out for number one.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” The disciples have forsaken their own honor so that they might have true honor and dignity in Jesus. Living by faith, they humble themselves to show mercy and kindness even to those who don’t deserve it.
Jesus set aside His dignity to eat with tax collectors and sinners. He reached out to touch the demonized, the diseased, the desperate. He died in dishonor on a cross to show mercy to all. The disciples of Jesus are eager to let His mercy flow through them also to others. Those who follow Christ trust that on the Last Day, they will be shown everlasting mercy, and so they are blessed.
The world says, “Blessed are the movers and the shakers, the crafty and smooth talkers, those who can manipulate things and make things go their own way, for they will be like gods and goddesses.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Pure in heart means innocent, as Adam and Eve once were before the Fall. Pure hearts are not run by ulterior motives, but entirely by the Spirit of Jesus. It isn’t simply right actions, but right desires that matter. It isn’t only what we do, but why we do it that counts. Who then can say that he or she is pure in heart? No one but Jesus. And He creates clean hearts in us, hearts purified by His Word, cleansed by His blood, softened by His promise, so that He alone may reign in them. In Jesus we see God by faith. And it is written, “We shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.” And so we are blessed.
The world says, “Blessed are those who mind their own business, who don’t care about other people’s issues and conflicts.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
The disciples of Jesus are reconciled to the Father through the wounds of the Prince of Peace. Baptized into Him, they seek to work reconciliation with others and to live peaceably with everyone. His shed blood can overcome bad blood; His cross can put feuds to death. Peacemakers sometimes get turned on by both sides. But they know that it’s worth it in the end. They will be called sons of God in the Son of God, and so they are blessed.
The world says, “Blessed are those who maintain the status quo, who keep what they believe to themselves, who compromise with the world, for that’s how you get ahead in life.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
If you seek kingdom of God and His righteousness, persecution will come, because the world doesn’t want anything to do with that. It wants a righteousness based on its own good living and not on Jesus. But the disciples love the righteousness of Christ above all else despite the cross it brings. Notice that the persecuted disciples receive the same promise as the poor. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And so the blessing comes full circle.
Finally Jesus turns and speaks directly to His followers. Only His disciples can understand this last benediction. “Blessed are you, when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” To share in the persecution of the prophets is to share in the sufferings of the One the prophets proclaimed, Jesus Christ. Therefore He says, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” If you have been united with Jesus in His death, you will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.
For now, you can only believe that promise of our Lord. But in the end you will see what He has promised. You are not cursed. You will come to the fulfillment of your baptism, and all those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb will be gathered before His throne–from the newly baptized, to prophets and apostles, saints and martyrs, blessed Mary and Paul and Peter and John, as well as the saints whom we will remember in a moment today. On that Last Day God will wipe away every tear from your eyes. There will be no more sorrow or pain; for the former things will have passed away. You will no longer hunger and thirst, but you will sit at His table and be filled with His goodness and life forever. And so you are blessed indeed in Jesus.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
(With thanks to William Cwirla)