By Ann Kelley
Contentment was in short supply in 2020 as we navigated a pandemic, the struggling economy, lost jobs, closed schools, a contentious and emotional election, and, for so many, gut-wrenching grief. The challenges continue into 2021.
How can we experience contentment when our lives have been uprooted? When there’s so much beyond our control? When we long to return to the way life used to be?
Life was much more difficult in Jesus' day. He lived and taught on earth during an oppressive time in history. Israel was occupied by the ruthless Roman Empire. Slavery was commonplace. Women and children were powerless. The poor made up a majority of the population.
At that time, leprosy was a dreaded disease that ravaged the population. The response to leprosy, a highly contagious disease that killed its victims by degrees and was considered incurable, required victims to live on the outskirts of town, have no contact with anyone but other lepers, scavenge for food, and shout, “unclean!” if anyone approached. (Can you relate during these COVID days?!)
It was within this tumultuous context that Jesus spoke to a large crowd in what we call the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3-11.
Read the following verses with fresh eyes using Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message. Jesus begins each statement with “You’re Blessed….” The Greek translation for blessed is happy. Jesus was revealing to his listeners and to us today that, by coming to the end of ourselves, we may open to God to fill the void.
...when you’re at the end of your rope.
With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
...when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.
Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
...when you’re content with who you are—no more, no less.
That’s the moment you find yourself the proud owner of everything that can’t be bought.
...when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.
He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
...when you care.
At the moment of being "care-full," you find yourself cared for.
... when you get your inside world—mind and heart—put right.
Then you can see God in the outside world.
... when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.
That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
... when your commitment to God provokes persecution.
The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
Not only that—Count Yourselves Blessed...
...every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit Me. What this means is that the truth is too close for comfort and has made people uncomfortable.
From "The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language"
Paraphrased by Eugene Peterson
Navpress Publishing Group, 2002