As we continue our discussion of a new iteration of our present world, again, I could not disagree with this interpretation more. And it’s deceptively slick! This interpretation, as it prescribes values Christians should practice, also distracts us, averting our minds from contemplating the social locations being contrasted and the political changes the passage could bring about. By focusing on prescribing virtues we are to develop individually, the social location of the privileged, powerful, and propertied is protected rather than being addressed or called into question. Jesus’ originally deeply political words have been replaced with a supposedly apolitical and benign interpretation that leaves our present systems of privilege and priority unquestioned, unchallenged, and thus unchanged.
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(Read this series from its beginning here.)
To interpret these words descriptively means being concerned with the material, political harms people are presently suffering right now and not only focusing on future rewards. Let’s look at what that means, starting with the first blessing.
In the first blessing, Jesus called for a blessing on those who are “poor in spirit.” Who were these people?
Speaking of John the Baptist as a child, Luke’s gospel reads, “And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.” (Luke 1:80)
John the Baptist was “strong in spirit,” and contrasts with those Jesus describes as “poor in spirit.” Jesus is referring to those who have pushed down, pushed out, treated unfairly, or whose spirits have been broken by the systems of this world: those who have been so mistreated they don’t even have the spirit to fight back or work for change. In Jesus’ new version of our world, those whose spirit has been so beaten down, who have a poverty of spirit, are the ones who will be centered. Our present world instead blesses those who are strong in spirit, those who self-advocate, or stand up to injustice. Strong in spirit can also apply to these who play the economic and political games of their era, also (although John’s strength of spirit would have been manifest in standing up to those systems.) It can apply to those who are motivated to get out of bed each day with initiative and the drive, for whatever purpose their spirit is set to.
Next, Jesus describes those who mourn.
(Read Part 1 )
(Read Part 3)