All our Sacred Authors agree that followers of God usually are considered weird by the "normal" people around them. Their judgment is based on a simple fact: God-followers constantly take a different road to fulfillment than those who don't follow God, a road most others reject.

Because Scripture is written by people of faith for people of faith, we shouldn't be surprised that its authors often encourage their readers first to expect, then to endure the eye-rolling looks, snide remarks and social exclusion which discipleship brings. They know almost everyone longs to be accepted by others, so they presume we'll always be tempted to gain that acceptance, no matter now deep our commitment to God.

Remnant

This seems to be why Zephaniah, prophesying at the end of the seventh century, B.C.E., during King Josiah's reform of Judaism, insists that those who "seek Yahweh" -- those who find God by searching for justice and humility -- will always be just a small remnant within the whole community (Zeph 2:3, 3: 12-13). They'll be the humble, lowly individuals whom others push out of their way. Yet they're the only Israelites who truly "take refuge in Yahweh," who "do no wrong and speak no lies." When Yahweh comes for judgment, they alone "shall pasture and couch their flocks with none to disturb them."

In the same way, Paul, disturbed by the factions pervading his Corinthian church, reminds his converts that they're exceptional only because they're "among those called" by God (I Cor 1: 26-31). Few were "wise,.... influential....or well-born" before their divine invitation; few had traits which would have brought acceptance by the wider, non-Christian community. Yet God, notorious for choosing outcasts, seems to have picked them precisely because of their lack of social status.

The problem (and the advantage) is that followers of Jesus can shame the wise and the strong, and reduce to nothing those who are something, only by falling back on the power of Jesus. He gifted them with His power precisely so they could form and maintain a close, loving community.

Paul believes any ordinary fool can use strength to tear a community apart, but only a Jesus-driven fool can use weakness to keep a community together.

It's because of this strength-rooted-in-weakness that Jesus' followers are such a contradiction to the rest of the world, as we also see in the gospel (Mt 5: 1-12).

Placement

We must note where Matthew places the Beatitudes in his Gospel. Like all evangelists, he chooses the location of his passages as carefully as he chooses the passages themselves. Here, Matthew makes the Beatitudes the introduction to his Sermon on the Mount. In that position, they serve as a litmus test for those who would attempt to follow Jesus' "Christian" interpretation of the Mosaic law with which Matthew fills his next three chapters.

BY putting them here, Matthew's telling his community, "If you can't conceive of yourselves as being weird enough to find fulfillment in life situations which others try to avoid, then don't read any further."

From being "poor in spirit" to being "persecuted for the sake of righteousness," these eight states of life aren't the kind of things people usually long for or fight over. Jesus declares His followers blessed for accepting experiences which normal people would interpret as curses.

Yet, in every case, Jesus' disciples see an advantage in becoming weak for His sake and the sake of others. Only by taking on these experiences will they step into the "kingdom of heaven,...be comforted,...inherit the land,...be satisfied,...shown mercy,...see God... (and) be called children of God."

It's essential to remember that, because Matthew wrote his Gospel more than 40 years after Jesus' death and resurrection, he's not telling his readers about something that has yet to be tried and proven. His Jesus is simply encouraging His community to reflect on the deep happiness which these eight experiences have brought them.

Biblical faith is like a pair of shoes that has already been broken in. If it didn't work, the Sacred Authors wouldn't be telling us about it -- no matter how weird it sounds.

(01-28-99)