I’m sitting on a hillside overlooking Galilee, where tradition and scholars say that Jesus spoke his Sermon on the Mount.
It’s my third time here. I love it. Each time, there’s a sense of coming home.
To my right I can see the city of Tiberius, which was founded by Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, and named after the Roman emperor Tiberius in the year AD 20. Beyond that into the distance is the land known as the West Bank, the Occupied Territories, or simply Palestine. Ahead of me is the Sea of Galilee, and on the horizon, the mouth of the Jordan River.
To my left I can see the hills of the Golan Heights, and beyond there is Syria with all its suffering and chaos.
If I walk a mile or two down the hillside, I will reach Capernaum, where Peter lived, the scene of so many stories from the Christian Scriptures.
I sit here in the Mediterranean sunshine, thinking and meditating and contemplating life with all its interweaving of people and stories and joy and pain.
I’ve once again been with friends, Israelis and Palestinians, and had a glimpse into their lives, so much that is beautiful and so much that is painful and full of sorrow.
In the Beatitudes, this extraordinary upside-down teaching of what the Kingdom of God looks like, Jesus gives us a lens with which to look at the world, and I think to myself that here on this hillside is not just the place where our Teacher walked 2,000 years ago — it’s one of the places where He would walk and talk if He were here today.
Jesus’ Words From the Hill
On this hill, our Teacher announces that this Gospel is for all the losers, all the broken, all those who haven’t normally been included, but who are now included, because God is reordering the way things work and what the world looks like.
For these people:
The poor in spirit: the people who don’t get it, the impoverished, those whose spirits are crushed, those on the B team, the spiritual zeroes, those who keep stumbling;
Those who mourn: the brokenhearted, the devastated, the grief-stricken, those familiar with tears;
The meek: the unnoticed, the passed-over, the bullied and marginalized, the discriminated against, those who lack power and choice;
The hungry and thirsty: those haunted by justice, who ache for the shalom of God, for things to be put right, those who feel in their very bones the pain of their own inadequacy to change the way the world works.
God meets us in our poverty, sorrow, struggle and lack and announces, “I am on your side.”
We don’t have to climb a ladder. We don’t have to claw our way to the top. Here at the bottom of the mountain is where the blessing is.
The Unexpected Invitation
If God blesses us at the bottom, in our failure, it changes how we interact with everyone else in the world.
If God meets us in our own mess and lack and ache, in our wrestling and in the moments that we keep messing up, then it changes how we see others who are in the middle of their own messy, broken and hurting lives.
We can begin to judge less and see ourselves in others who are struggling, and extend the grace we’ve received to them.
This lets us be in the world in a different way. To begin to show mercy to others. To begin spreading it around.
So as we live a little more with mercy, our hearts become a little more whole and a little more pure. And as we offer that to others, we see people how God sees them, and we begin to see God in a new way.
As we see the world differently, we can resist the urge to go take sides, even though that’s the path of least resistance.
When we find ourselves living as peacemakers in the world, this kind of living so easily leads to persecution because we all know the way the world works — it wants us to pick a side, and it’s not going to go down so well when we don’t pick a side and want to see everyone flourish.
We have to ask ourselves some hard questions:
Who and what am I colluding with? The dominant powers at play in the world — or the One who shared the message of the Beatitudes?
What am I resisting?
Are there situations in everyday life where I’m being forced to go with the flow? What would happen if I said no?
Who am I speaking out for? The homeless in my town? The woman at work on the receiving end of sexual jibes? The guy at school who’s getting bullied?
If I speak out — if I resist — am I willing to suffer for it? Because it might just happen.
And the words from the hill are speaking still: “You are blessed, God is on your side.”
The Beatitudes are about receiving the grace that in our own poverty, brokenness, lack of power and ache for justice we can hear the amazing, exuberant, counterintuitive announcement that God is on our side.
Maybe we need to do the absolutely necessary internal work of showing ourselves mercy, of lifting our own heads, of not beating ourselves up, of healing our divided hearts, of receiving the gift of peace on the inside.
Because when we do, I believe the prophetic call to action to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, will follow.
God is on your side.