Modern people are rewarded for hard work, intelligence, athletic ability, and physical appearance. Studies have shown that people who conform to our modern Western ideals of height and what we consider attractive make more money. They receive the rewards of approval and security. Our society pays them what they are owed, generally, when they play by the rules and earn their status.
But Jesus talks about a different kind of reward that comes for a different kind of person. He talks about rewards that come from the heavenly realms.
At the end of the Beatitudes, Jesus says:
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12).
It seems like he’s saying that even if things go badly here on earth, God will reward us in heaven, as if we are just waiting for some cosmic jackpot.
But Jesus also talks about how the heavenly realm is present here and now, so perhaps that reward is one we begin to experience here on earth. And perhaps that reward is very different from the reward we receive for living up to human expectations. Perhaps the reward of following Jesus and walking in his way is the reward of a relationship with him and an awareness of the spiritual realm all around us. Perhaps it is the reward of blessing, of belovedness, not the reward of achievement.
For the past few weeks, we’ve read through what people now call “the Beatitudes.” These are Jesus’ proclamation of who God welcomes and includes and cares for.
This list of blessings is an introduction to the way of blessedness, which rests upon a foundation of belovedness. Despite our mistakes and failures, despite the bad choices we make and the bad systems we participate within, belovedness is our core identity.
Our bad deeds and hopeless experiences do not define us. Our good deeds and striving to prove ourselves do not satisfy us. Rather, we are invited to follow Jesus along the way of blessing.
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