Monday, October 3, 2016

The Good and Beautiful Life: Chapter 3

A large part of chapter 3 in James Bryan Smith's The Good and Beautiful Life focuses on the Beatitudes, a section of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5.

People sometimes think of the Beatitudes as "prescriptions for blessedness." In other words, we think that we are meant to read them to find out how to be blessed.  This tendency relates to our need to look for what we must do to receive God's favor, rather than accepting it as a free gift.

Smith encourages  us to read the Beatitudes, instead, as descriptions of the kinds of people who are invited to the Kingdom of God.  Chapter 3, entitled "The Grand Invitation," is all about the inclusivity of God's Kingdom.
Think about a time when you have been excluded from a group. What was that like?
When Jesus came preaching about the Kingdom of God, who did his Jewish hearers believe would be the only ones to be a part of it?

  • Jews
  • men
  • law-keepers
  • physically whole and healthy people
  • the wealthy

This list helps us to understand why Jesus' outreach to the sick, the poor, and the outcast was so shocking to the religious leaders of the time.  'They are invited to have a relationship with God, too?!'

But Jesus is the one issuing the invitations, and he says the non-Jews, the women, the sinners, the sick, and the poor are all invited to be in relationship with His Father in heaven.  Imagine how offensive this message was to some, and how welcome to others!
In light of this understanding, read the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12, and review Smith's interpretation of what each of them means.  As you read, think of them in terms of "words of hope and healing to those who have been marginalized" (page 56).

The word "blessed" is used for the Greek word makarios, which means "truly well off, those for whom everything is good."  So Jesus is essentially saying "life is really good" for all the different groups described here:

  • the poor in spirit: those with nothing going for them, who feel marginalized, even from God, who are overlooked by the world
  • those who mourn: those experiencing overwhelming grief at some loss
  • those who are meek: the gentle, who are unable to resist, unable to stand up in the face of the oppressor
  • those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: those who are in great need of things being made right
  • those who are merciful: those who give until it hurts
  • the pure in heart: the unselfish who long to do better in order to see God
  • the peacemakers: those who are caught in the middle
  • those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake: those who are willing to suffer for their faith, especially when they go against the grain of society

None of these people is cut off from God!

They aren't blessed because of these conditions; they are blessed because of Jesus!

Our worldly circumstances don't define us!
Which of the Beatitudes do you most relate to?
In chapter 3, Smith calls Jesus a "walking Beatitude," because he was a walking, talking blessing to the world.  And we become walking Beatitudes ourselves when we are walking, talking blessings to the world.
Have you known someone whom you would call a Living Beatitude, like Jim's example of Kevin, who helped people effectively through their grief after losing a spouse?
The Soul Training exercise in chapter 3 calls us to experiment with hospitality. The Beatitudes teach us that the marginalized are invited into the Kingdom of Heaven, and hospitality teaches us to be inclusive like God.

Last time we talked about how we live in the Kingdom of God now, so if we live in it now and God includes the excluded now, then we have a role in including the excluded, too!

Some of Smith's suggestions for exercising hospitality included connecting with people who are different, listening attentively to others, making hospitable preparations (including for family), paying attention to loved ones, and welcoming people who are not in our cliques.

Having said this:

  • Were you able to practice any of Smith's chapter 3 suggestions for hospitality?
  • What did you learn about God's presence in the lives of those who are different from you?
  • What did you learn about God or yourself through this exercise?


1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful summary of Chapter 3, thank you


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