Recently a friend signed off an email with these words: “It’s time to go watch some depressing news and then get to bed.”
She was right. The news is depressing. The headlines this week include stories about ongoing fighting in Ukraine, the beheading of an American journalist by Islamic extremists in Iraq, continuing tensions between Israel and Palestinians, and the worsening Ebola epidemic in West Africa. At home, teachers in British Columbia are on strike, and there are continuing calls for a federal inquiry into murdered Aboriginal women. And there are many local bad news stories.
The news was also depressing in Jesus’s day: Roman soldiers oppressing Jews and desecrating God’s holy soil of Palestine, rich dominating poor, children sold into debt slavery, disease, suffering, and early death. And that was the news in the ordinary times. It was even worse during times of war.
But in our main text for Sunday, September 7, from the Gospel of Matthew (5:1-16), Jesus does not advise, “Turn off the television, throw away the newspaper, escape into video games, curl up into bed and shut out the bad world.” Quite the contrary. Instead, he asks: “Do you feel discouraged and hopeless over the state of the world? Do you mourn the loss of someone who was a victim of injustice? Do you burn inside with a passion borne out of pain that the world become a better place? If so, then congratulations! Good for you! You should be happy! Because it is you—you in your discouragement and need and pain–who are blessed.”
A rather upside-down blessing, for those who seem anything but blessed. But then, the Kingdom of God whose arrival Jesus announced is an upside-down Kingdom. Not the smugly self-assured and insulated but the poor in spirit; not the satisfied but those starving for righteousness; not the dishonest and the hypocrites but the pure in heart; not the judgmental but the merciful; not the purveyors of violence but the peacemakers are the ones positioned to receive God’s Kingdom. They are the ones who will fit in and be at home there.