Tasty and Bright

My community group at church is going through the Sermon on the Mount to gleam some potentially overlooked insights from Jesus' most famous sermon. Really, we're trying to figure out what he really meant, placing his radical teachings in their proper context, which is: Jesus talking to a downtrodden people who had been oppressed by different foreign governments for hundreds of years, while also living under the thumb of their own religious leaders. To these lowly people he said:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)
I've read these Beatitudes for years and, sure they hit me a little, but moreover I've found it difficult to relate. I'm a pretty positive guy, and these just seem to be more for people who are having a hard time in life. But today something shifted, and given the context of a downtrodden people, it makes more sense. Ultimately, I'm feeling like these sayings were meant to uplift and encourage a people who feel like they don't belong in the world in which they were placed. And that's something I can relate to.

Often I feel like I live in a system that doesn't jive with me. I see my friends who are successful, hustlers and good at making deals, and I just don't feel like that's in me; naturally at least. I complain about wealthy investors who invade neighborhoods, build giant condos and then leave, not concerned with the effects of gentrification on the people who have lived there for decades. I criticize a government that serves the interest of itself and its wealthiest citizens, overlooking the needs of the vast majority of the country. I write about money and pursuit and dreams all the time on this blog, which often feels like just a journal of my struggles trying to make sense of it all -- trying to fit in.

And then Jesus says, "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth." What about this world tells us the gentle, meek, humble will receive anything on this planet, just by being themselves? No, it's the hustlers, the deal-makers, the ones who wake up early and go to bed late, who work hard and sacrifice and, often times, the ones who run past and trample over others, that get ahead. But Jesus says that they may have the earth now, but one day, when God's kingdom is set up, it's the other guys who will inherit the whole thing. It's hardly believable; almost laughable.

After this, Jesus takes it farther, not only encouraging the lowly, but claiming that they are the salt and light of this world! They are the ones who make living on this planet interesting, worth living, tasty and bright.
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)
The meek of this world are the ones who make this harsh world bearable. And in that light, those last sentences make a little more sense. If those who are humble adapt to the ways of the world, how can they go back? How can they become salt and light again? They can't, and they will be tossed out; only to be trampled by the very ones they abandoned themselves to impress in the first place.

So according to this, we aren't to adapt to the world, but to embrace the awkward position we are in. We are children of God, called by the King to a different kingdom that operates in opposite function to the one we live in now. When we do what we think is right and find ourselves swimming upstream, we are to do it singing, bright and full of life; pursuing righteousness and purity, not being weird for weirdness sake, but so that our "otherness" will be seen by men, ultimately leading to God's glory. It's an empowerment that makes sense of the struggle, and presses us forward in the best way possible.

I know there is more to be learned here, but what a first step! I was taught that, when analyzing scripture, context is king -- and how true it is! And in this case, the proper context enlightens in a way that breathes life to some verses that never quite clicked for me, and may just be the thing that gives hope when life doesn't seem to make sense.