Canadian Mennonite
Volume 13, No. 2
Jan. 19, 2009


Where our treasures lie

Tim Miller Dyck


Tim Miller Dyck

The Beatitudes (the series of blessings Jesus gives in Matthew 5 and Luke 6) are teachings of Jesus that the Mennonite Church holds very close to its heart. Mennonites have claimed the seventh Beatitude in Mark (“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”) as our own; it is the foundation of our belief in pacifism.

However, there are eight other blessings listed in Mark and three other blessings in Luke (as well as some warnings). We are not to put ourselves into one of the categories—the poor in spirit, the meek, the peacemakers—and leave the rest for others to work on. Each Beatitude is for every Christian. Just like you don’t want to exercise nothing but your abs or nothing but your biceps in order to be fit, all the Beatitudes are important for growing in the faith.

At the same time, the first Beatitude does stand out as an entranceway to the rest. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” says Matthew 5:3. It’s one of the most general teachings in the passage and offers a blessing—the kingdom of heaven—that is a common phrase in the gospels.

Yet the verse is really shocking in its call, as are all the Beatitudes.

This first Beatitude is given both by Matthew and Luke, and it’s an eye-opener for me to compare the two. In Luke, the text is, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Matthew identifies a specific form of poverty, while Luke just talks about poverty in general. Those who have wealth are happy for Matthew; those who have little money are happy for Luke. Especially in this case, it’s important that we hear both texts, recorded by Matthew and Luke for the instruction of the church.

There are many biblical teachings that support the idea that it’s harder for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven than the poor. The point here, I think, is, where do our treasures lie? There are all kinds of Caesars in which we are tempted to place our trust and our loyalty. To a student, grades in the 90s may be more valuable than simple money. Or perhaps praise from a particular person is what drives you. Perhaps public recognition in your career is what provides inner wealth. We know the disciples were, at times, driven by the desire to be the greatest in their little group (see Mark 9).

Clarence Jordan, in his book Sermon on the Mount, writes, “It is exactly this attitude of self-praise and self-justification and self-satisfaction that robs [us] of a sense of great need for the kingdom and its blessings. When one says, ‘I don’t need to be poor in things; I’m poor in spirit,’ and another says, ‘I don’t need to be poor in spirit; I’m poor in things,’ both are justifying themselves as they are, and saying in unison, ‘I don’t need.’”

I’ve heard Christian evangelism summed up as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find some bread.” Both versions of the first Beatitude help us to remember that there are many things that keep us from knowing how deep our need for the kingdom of heaven is, many things that we pursue that distract us from turning to God and God alone. Without that turning to God, the rest of the blessings Jesus gives will remain distant.

Introducing two new columns: We’re starting two new column series this year. Sue C. Steiner, chair of Mennonite Church Canada’s Christian Formation Council, is writing a column series on how we can all care for our pastors and help them thrive. Her column started last issue (see page 13 of the Jan. 5 issue) and will appear monthly. Christine Longhurst, who teaches worship and music at Canadian Mennonite University, is writing “Worship Wisdom,” where she presents a number of her thoughts and ideas to help us all worship together better. Her column is starting this issue (see page 16) and will also run monthly.

Letters on homosexuality: If you think there have been a lot of reader letters on homosexuality published recently, you’re right. I keep figures on the letters we publish and we’ve received about as many letters sent in by readers on this subject in just the last five months as in all of 2006 and 2007 put together. Our general letters policy is to publish all letters received, but given how this topic has been dominating the Readers Write section, I think it’s time to take a breather on this particular topic for a while and focus on other things in that section. We still have some letters from readers expressing their thoughts on this subject that have already been received but not yet published, and these will be printed in our Feb. 2 issue.

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