The Taj Mahal, Agra, India
During this season of Lent, the church I serve as a co-interim minister is using as its Sunday theme the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. In his book, When Jesus Came to Harvard, Harvey Cox offers this translation.
Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Blessed are the sorrowful; they shall find consolation. Blessed are the gentle; they shall have the earth for their possession. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail; they shall be satisfied. Blessed are those who show mercy; mercy shall be shown to them. Blessed are those whose hearts are pure; they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called God’s children. Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of right; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Though I’ve known the Beatitudes for most of my life (I earned a gold star in Sunday School for memorizing them over four decades ago) a recent awareness has come my way. I’m struck by what is missing, by what is not said. Jesus does not make himself the subject or the object of the Beatitudes. He doesn’t say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit who believe in me; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs;” nor does he say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for me; they will be satisfied.”
Take fifteen minutes and read through the entire Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Nowhere in this essential discourse, pieced together by the gospel compiler(s), does Jesus instruct his hearers to believe anything about him. To an audience that may have numbered several thousand, as suggested in Luke’s account, Jesus makes no claim of being the Son of God, no claim of being born of a mother who was a virgin, no claim that his only reason for living was to die for your sins or mine, no exclusivist claim that heaven is available only to those who pin their faith on him.
Yeah, I know, even though such claims don’t occur in the Beatitudes or in the Sermon on the Mount, there are numerous references throughout the rest of the New Testament.
Yet, I can’t get out of my head this scene. One day, as the sun was reaching for the western horizon, Jesus sat for the longest time behind the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, at a vantage point where the crowd numbered only a few dozen, much smaller than the thousands who were touring the grounds of this man-made wonder of the world.
Jesus said to the young boy, likely a Hindu, who carried his worldly possessions on his head, “Blessed are you, the poor in spirit, the Kingdom of Heaven is yours. And blessed are you again, for gentle ones just like you shall possess the earth.”
Not long after, two Hindu women colorfully adorned passed by with their goats, toiling hard as they always do. And Jesus said, “Dear women, blessed are you who hunger and thirst for right to prevail, you will be satisfied. And blessed are you, tireless laborers and tillers of the earth, for your hearts are pure and you shall see God.”
Jesus blessed them all and promised them everything!