Holy Week is just around the corner. As Christians prepare to remember the week of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem; his Last Supper with his disciples; and his subsequent arrest, trial, and crucifixion, here are some reflections that I first preached during our Holy Land pilgrimage last November and promised to share back in January.
We think of Jesus as being crucified by those who didn’t get his message, but it’s really that he was crucified by those who did get his message—and were threatened by his renunciation of the established social order. In John 18:14, Caiaphas, the high priest, declares it is expedient that one man should die for the people. He wants to crucify Jesus because Jesus is critiquing the social system that works for those like Caiaphas who are willing to collude with the Romans. The system has made them rich and powerful, and Jesus wants to turn that upside down.
And let’s be honest: The established social order works for us today. We are not oppressed, although some of us may fear that is coming, as the American democratic system is under siege on many levels. Still, many of us have the means to travel 7000 miles away from home and be driven around to various holy sites in an air-conditioned bus while keeping tabs on the political situation through our smart phones.
This is what we need to understand in order to get to the heart of the beatitudes. For Jesus, the beatitudes inaugurated his description of a new world order. The beatitudes were revolutionary. They were designed to turn the world upside down.
Let’s look at some examples. “Blessed are the meek.” Can you imagine someone meek succeeding in the cutthroat world of Wall Street?
“Blessed are those who mourn.” When is the last time you saw weeping and wailing being encouraged or held up as important in our broader social conversation? The death of England’s Queen Elizabeth last year gave us pomp and pageantry, analysis and speculation, but very little emotion, and certainly not raw grief.
“Blessed are the merciful.” “Blessed are the peacemakers.” When’s the last time you saw mercy or peacemaking being encouraged in America’s political conversation?
“Blessed are you when others revile and persecute you.” Think about all the ways our culture glorifies legal fights over who slandered who, taking people to court over words while the poor are starving in our streets.
Yes, Jesus had a radical alternative plan that would turn modern American society upside down—just as it would have turned Roman imperial society upside down and shaken up Jewish collaborators as well. That’s why Jesus was crucified by the religious leaders who were collaborating with those in power.
As we prepare for Holy Week, I invite you to pray about how the Holy Spirit might be inviting you to embrace the beatitudes in new ways. As we remember Jesus being crucified, how might you be called to proclaim his new world order rather than just worship him? What needs to change in your life for that to happen?