What do you have in your hands?

Our “Connection Group” at Rochester Christian Reformed Church meets twice a month. We take turns coming up with a sharing question for the group. Jim’s question for this evening’s get together was this. It concerns the first of the beatitudes in the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

This is the one Anthony asked toward the end of his sermon last Sunday: What personal abilities or resources are you bringing to Jesus in a vain attempt at self-justification? What do you value about yourself that you should instead put aside so you can be poor in spirit and come to Jesus empty-handed?

Since I had to miss the meeting, I wrote my response so I could mail it to the group. This is what I wrote.

The beatitudes admit to multiple interpretations. Such is the nature of proverbs.

Pastor Anthony and Dallas Willard (The Divine Conspiracy) take different but parallel approaches. The key element for both is that the beatitudes are not a new set of laws to beat ourselves up with, but a proclamation of grace.

For Willard the point is good news for those who knew they had nothing in their hands and knew they had to get their act together in order to be acceptable to God. Jesus says, “No, you are blessed / happy / flourishing just as you are because the kingdom is my gracious gift to you.”

For Pastor Anthony the point is good news for those who know they have some pretty good stuff in their hands to present to God to gain his approval. To them Jesus says, “No, it doesn’t matter. In fact, it gets in the way. Let it go. You are blessed / happy / flourishing with your empty hands, because the kingdom is my gracious gift to you.”

Jesus’ original hearers certainly included both groups. I expect most of us are a mixture of of the two.

The past few years have done a number on my self-confidence. What I have the hardest time letting go of is the nagging feeling that I need to do something more to be acceptable, to truly flourish in the kingdom of heaven. The monkey on my back sings, “Oughta oughta oughta.”

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