Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount launches with eight pretty powerful blessings. As quoted in the Gospel of Matthew, they are:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(I never understood who the “poor in spirit” are supposed to be, but I learned tonight it’s folks who recognize they need God. That makes sense in context.)

The people who were listening had to be a little confused by some of this. All right, let’s understand that we need God and we should hunger and thirst to be righteous and pure in heart. But what’s this stuff about being meek and merciful and peacemakers? 

Shouldn’t a God-fearing person be strong and forceful about proclaiming and enforcing God’s laws? And this bit a little later when he says if somebody slaps you in the face, you should offer up the other side of your face so he can slap that, too? Wait just a cotton-picking minute.

Jesus here is serving up the recipe for non-violent civil disobedience that the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King finally embraced during the 20th century. Yep, it took nearly 2,000 years of religious leaders going to war and forcing Christianity on reluctant and/or conquered souls before somebody took to heart what Jesus was trying to say here.  

Jesus, Gandhi and King were all assassinated. That’s how dangerous non-violence is to some people. Make peace? Be humble of heart and, for crying out loud, merciful? That sort of talk needs to be put down, and hard. 

This life Jesus was talking about was not easy — the gentle and the loving tend to be ground up and spit out in what passes for “real life” in this day and age. But imagine how much better this world could be if we took these words to heart.

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