“When Jesus saw the crowds”
Did you feel the significance of that simple statement?
“Jesus saw the crowds.”
The eternal Word of God, present at the time of creation, at that moment enfleshed in Jesus saw the crowds.
The crowd is such an anonymous entity, an enormous entity – a place in which people can get lost and be ignored. Yet Jesus saw the crowds.
People like you and I: the crowd searching for healing and hope and news of a better reality. What did Jesus see in crowd? Later in Matthew 9 we are told that Jesus saw within the crowd people who were like sheep without a shepherd.
Who did he see? People bearing the burdens of their lives. People with ailments and problems. People looking for hope. People like you and I.
Jesus saw the crowds and Jesus responded. Jesus ascended to the mountaintop and as was the custom of the rabbis he sat down and he began to teach. Jesus began to teach his disciples.
Now I have little doubt that just as the disciples approached him many of the crowd leaned in as well. Leaning in over the shoulders of the disciples the crowd was listening.
What would Jesus say? What is Jesus response to seeing the crowd human beings going about their business with all their troubles, woes and joys?
The words that Jesus shares are well know to us, they are called the beatitudes but we who are hearing them again for the umpteenth time should remember those gathered on the side of the hill were hearing them for the first time.
If we were travel back to the time and hear them afresh I suspect 2 things would stand out. Firstly, Jesus teaching appears to be encouraging something of a reversal or revolution of understanding what it means to be blessed. And secondly, in the context of the reversal Jesus declares a hope which transcends the current experience.
Each of the first statements of Jesus Sermon on the Mount comes as a couplet, recognition of a blessing and an alternate reality to which that blessing is connected.
It is a reversal that we too need to hear:
Blessed are the poor? Those who mourn? The meek? Those who hunger and thirst? Really?
There is an old country song Count Your Blessings – I don’t think this is what they were thinking about when they wrote the song.
So why does Jesus say it? In his book The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer suggests that Jesus was first and foremost speaking to his disciples who had left their homes, their families, their livelihoods to follow Jesus. They were poor, they mourned the loss of their nationhood, they were meek and no doubt they experienced days of hunger and thirst.
Jesus reversal reminds them, not just the disciples but crowd listening on and so us as well, that blessedness is not necessarily represented in an easy life with no hardship. Blessedness, the knowledge of God’s care and concern for any is not necessarily equated to the momentary experience in which we find ourselves.
Jesus teaches his disciples that the parallel to the blessedness of life, whether it feels like a blessing or not, is that there is a coming kingdom of heaven, that there is comfort in store, and that mercy and that seeing God are in store.
Two sides of a story: we live life as a blessing, even in the tough times, and we live with hope that from the blessing of life we will encounter the fullness of God’s life and kingdom.
Of course as people hearing this story from where we sit we are hearing this story from the fringe of the crowd, not only looking over the shoulders of the crowds and disciples but hearing beyond on the moments of its speaking on the other side of Jesus death and resurrection.
In hearing this story post resurrection and having a fuller sense of Jesus identity there is more to it for us than for the disciples and the crowd which Jesus saw.
When God looks upon the world and sees humanity and the creation and the difficult experiences of our blessed lives God shares in the fullness of our humanity by joining us in it and experiencing the depth of blessedness himself.
Jesus is the poor in spirit, Jesus is one who mourns, Jesus is the meek, Jesus hungers and thirsts, Jesus is pure in heart, Jesus is a peacemaker and yes Jesus is persecuted.
Jesus blessedness in sharing our existence culminates in his sharing in our death as he dies on the cross and so he blesses us.
We know that by the power of the resurrection the kingdom of heaven has come; we know that he is comforted; that he inherits the earth; that he has been filled; that he has received mercy; that he is a child of God and that he rejoices.
Jesus teaching comes to us not telling us that we need to seek poverty of spirit and mourning and meekness and hunger and thirst out but that in and through him when we experience those things he is drawing us into the other side of that promise.
It will be on earth as it is in heaven, even if the blessed life we lead now seems to miss the mark.
Blessedness here is not about an easy life and having everything we want but rather is about knowing that God does not desert us even the darkest of places, that our predicament is not a measure of our blessedness and yes there is a kingdom coming.
Each week each of face the struggles and trials of life: sometimes you and I have to admit that we have got it wrong; sometimes you and I encounter confusion and mourning; sometimes we hunger and thirst ; sometimes you and are called on to be peacemakers; and sometimes we find ourselves being persecuted for our faith.
Yet, as people listening to Jesus teaching on the other side of the resurrection we are able to hang on to that tangible hope which we have seen in the resurrection: renewal and recreation is coming, suffering and death have been defeated.
Yes we do not experience these things in their fullness yet, we are on a journey to a future which has not yet arrived – but, as Paul declares, we hope in things not seen.
Why, because Jesus saw the crowds, because God sees us, because Jesus teaching becomes embodied in his own life and because Jesus promise is that through whatever blessings life brings we can hope in that future.
I wonder can you see Jesus on the hill teaching his disciples, teaching the crowd, teaching us, promising us because whether or not you can see him he has seen us!
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!