Updated: Feb 28, 2022
“Then [Jesus] looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.’” (Luke 6:20-21, NRSV)
When we approach the gospel stories, most of us do so from our 21st-century mindset. We imagine a world like ours, assuming our values are the same as those in Jesus’ day. We inaccurately project our cultural norms onto the stories and draw faulty conclusions. Failing to consider the social and cultural context that contributed to the words we read in scripture causes us to misread the sacred text through the bias of our western eyes and contemporary mental constructs.
Jesus was addressing a diverse crowd. Those gathered were from among young and old, rich and poor, healthy and sick, educated and uneducated, employed and unemployed, socially connected and marginalized, and from any other polarity that separates one population from another. The gaps between the disparate collection of those listening to him teach were vast—even more expansive than anything we’ve experienced in our lives. Further, most people believed that if you were among any favored classification of people, it was because God was “on your side.” If you struggled in any way, it was a manifestation of God’s judgment on your inferior life.
When Jesus spoke of blessings for the poor, the hungry, and the grieving, he was reversing practically everything his listeners knew of how things were supposed to work. Luke picks up this recurring theme as Jesus’ messianic purpose throughout his gospel:
In Jesus’ beatitudes, we hear echoes of Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55, where she spoke of the Messiah’s intention to reverse the physical circumstances of God’s people.
In teaching at the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke 4:16-30, Jesus used Isaiah’s prophetic words about the Jubilee year to proclaim healing and liberty for people oppressed in any way.
Reiterating his messianic purpose in Luke 6:17-26, Jesus again describes a world shaped by God that challenges the conventional thinking about who and who isn’t blessed.
Jesus was not deepening the divide between the physical, emotional, economic, and spiritual disparities we face; instead, he was tearing down the distinctions that so easily divide us and leveling the playing field for all of us despite our current reality. Dallas Willard said:
The Beatitudes are not a list one must be on to be blessed, nor is the blessing they announce caused by the condition specified in those said to be blessed. Poverty, for example, whether in spirit or pocketbook, is not the cause or reason for blessedness—entry into the Kingdom of God is the reason, as The Teacher explicitly stated. In these teachings, Jesus lays his ax to the root of the off-center human value system and proclaims irrelevant those factors the world uses in deciding who is or is not well off.”
In the Kingdom of God, we are all equal, and God deals with us the same way he deals with others—he extends blessings through his love and grace. Whatever your circumstance, God is looking for ways to bless you so that you may be a blessing to others. In the words of Jesus, “Blessed are you!”