One of the projects I’ve been working on lately has had me spending lots of time in the beatitudes. And I’ve been struck by other-worldly they aren’t:
For the poor: “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”
For the meek: “They will inherit the earth…”
And for the persecuted, again for good measure: “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”
Luke is even more down-to-earth in his rendition of the beatitudes. “Blessed are you who are poor,” he writes. Not just those who are poor in spirit. And, “Blessed are you who hunger now.”
According to Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is not just a distant promise for the persecuted and the poor. It’s meant to be a present reality, affecting their lives in the here and now.
According to Jesus, the inheritance of the meek is not a pile of heavenly riches. It’s the earth—this world. In Greek, the word for earth is the same as the word for “ground” or even “dirt.”
All of this begs the question: If Jesus meant for the poor, the meek, the hungry, and the persecuted to experience blessing now, exactly how is this supposed to happen? Who will bring for them the kingdom of heaven, the earth, and satisfaction for body and soul?
Maybe it’s our job. Maybe, when we see to it the needs of the poor are met, we bring a little bit of God’s kingdom to earth. Maybe, when we defend the rights of the meek (read: powerless), we carve out a small piece of earth for them. Maybe, when we give food to the hungry, we bring more than just physical sustenance.
Come to think of it, maybe all of the beatitudes have a present (and not just a future) dimension to them. Maybe those who mourn are comforted and the pure in heart see God whenever we live up to our calling to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
To be sure, Jesus at times speaks of “reward in heaven.” But for ancient Jews who, like Jesus, believed in the afterlife, the line between this life and the next was blurry at best. Eternal life was something that began not the moment you died, but the moment you entered into a relationship with God.
The kingdom of heaven is a blessing that lasts for eternity. But according to Jesus, you don’t have to wait till you die to enjoy this blessing—or to share it with others.