Jesus came down from the mountain, but often we wish he had stayed there, remote, beyond human understanding or imitation. It is much easier to deal with statues or paintings than the persistent call of Jesus to follow him in and out of the desert, in and out of favour, in and out of safety.
The Beatitudes, so called because we have thought of them as blessings, are in fact a manifesto of change. They are one expression of Jesus’ blueprint for a transformed world. The Beatitudes offer a critique of the present situation and a vision of how those without power can bring change for themselves and for everyone.
I don’t think the beatitudes are metaphorical. I think they ask us even now, whose side are you on? To be onside with the poor, the marginalized, the vulnerable means to become vulnerable ourselves. And that is the dividing line between the followers of Jesus and everyone else. By followers of Jesus, I do not mean Christians necessarily, but all those who are willing to be God’s fools, the compassionate ones, the generous ones, the ones who choose risk over security, who choose solidarity over tradition, expediency, or even law.
It is a terrifying question Jesus asks us. More than our possessions, Jesus asks us to learn how to be uncomfortable with our own comfort, to go to pow wows and blanket exercises, to serve in soup kitchens, to learn about how our prejudices contribute to the sin that rages through our societies, causing violence, disorder and suffering. We are asked to be on the side of the poor, the ones who make us uncomfortable.
What possible benefit could we possibly derive by following him, what is in it for us? Blessed are those who live with no or limited resources because they appreciate every single good thing that comes their way. From those with little, we learn gratitude. We learn to resist judging without understanding. We learn humility as we recognize our fears that cause us to put walls around our perceptions and our actions.
As we grow in solidarity, in a sense of unity and equality with others, we grow also in our Christ nature. We discover the Christ who is both glorified on the mountain and reachable on the plain. As a community of the Way, we take on the path that inevitably leads to death, and to new life, no longer alone but living for each other.