All Saints Day

1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

St Barbara’s; 01.11.2020

Dan Rathbone

Today’s gospel reading from Matthew chapter 5, known as the beatitudes, is one of the most
famous bible passages ever. It was considered well enough known for it to be included in the
Monty Python film Life of Brian, though I must stress to Python fans that the Matthew’s gospel
version has no mention at all of cheesemakers or their state of blessing.

So, if not the cheesemakers, who are the people considered as blessed? The passage mentions the
poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the
merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted because of righteousness
and those who are insulted, persecuted and slandered for the sake of Jesus. At a first reading the
list can appear a bit odd. Are Christians supposed to be dispirited, timid, put-upon folk detested by
those around them? Is this, perhaps, some kind of instruction manual on how to be a Christian?
Actually, the consensus is that these verses are not an instruction manual but rather a picture of
what a Christian should look like.

An analogy that works for me is one of a paint by numbers kit. I remember having one of those for
Christmas as a child. The white canvas had a picture outlined in detail and it was divided up into
small slivers and segments. Each was labelled with a number between one and ten and there were
ten corresponding little pots of oil paint. My task was to follow the numbers and apply the paint to
the right places. Over the days that it took me to complete the picture, the canvas was
transformed from a bland whiteness to something altogether more vibrant. In terms of painting a
picture of a Christian, the eight beatitudes are the pots of paint, and as we grow and develop as
Christians and as we live out the gospel, so we become more vibrant and distinctive as the
Christian qualities are developed and show through.

The components of this picture of a Christian are often at odds with what the world sees as
desirable or worth striving for. In fact, living the gospel naturally puts us at odds with the world
and as such we can expect on occasion to be slandered, denigrated or even persecuted.
Stop for a moment and think of an important high-profile figure that the world would look upon as
successful. Have you picked someone? How do they measure up against today’s gospel reading?
Me, I am thinking of president Trump. I should say, before continuing, that other politicians from
the extreme ends of the spectrum are also available. Mr Trump, successful – yes, rich –
immensely, important – yes, powerful – yes, adored – not by all, but adored by tens of millions,
certainly enough to get him elected four years ago and maybe so again. But Mr Trump, poor in
spirit, mournful, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, a
peacemaker, persecuted because of righteousness?? In my opinion, no. I have used this extreme
comparison to try to bring out how counter-cultural the gospel is. The hallmarks of a true Christian
are not traits that are generally applauded and aspired to by society at large. But when one does
meet a person whose colours are the beatitudes, it is obvious what a blessing that person is and
how much more valuable and important these Christian qualities are than success, wealth, power
and fame.

The closest this passage comes to being an instruction manual for Christian living is in the first
beatitude, blessed are the poor in spirit, for that state of being is the gateway to all the rest. So let
us unpack that. As those of us who are poor in spirit stand before God, we know that we bring

nothing that God needs and there is nothing about us that compels God to accept us. We are
utterly dependent upon God, dependent upon his love, his mercy and the saving work done
through Jesus Christ. We are in no position to bargain with God or to hope to make a deal,
because we have nothing at all to offer. That is poverty of spirit – the very self-awareness of our
utter dependence upon God and it makes us receptive vessels into which God can pour his

Luke’s version of this beatitude is shorter and harder-edged: Blessed are the poor. But on closer
inspection, both versions fit well with another piece of Jesus’ teaching namely “It is easier for a
camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of
God.” That is because the rich are more likely to see themselves as worthy and in a position to cut
a deal. It is often the case that the greater our wealth, the greater our sense of security and self-
sufficiency and the less we feel the need for God’s help. Wealth can crowd God out and we can
lose sight of our dependence upon God.

Let us run the thought experiment again, but this time make it more personal. Do you recognise
yourself or fellow Christians from St Barbara’s in the verses of today’s gospel reading? To
paraphrase the beatitudes: Do we recognise that we are utterly dependent upon God? Do we
mourn for our own shortcomings and the sins of the world? Are we looking for the good of others
rather than being self-seeking? Do we long for a world where people live in right relationships? Do
we feel the other person’s pain and take action to relieve it? Are our intentions pure? Are we a
proactive source of harmony? Are our lives noticeably and distinctively Christian and rubbing
against the grain of society?

I don’t know about you, but in the construction of my own personal beatitudes paint by numbers
picture, there are several pots of paint yet to be opened and there is a long way to go before all
the Christian qualities are visible in me. Having had to write this talk has been an illumination for
me and maybe this is relevant for you as well. To quote John Major, it would be good to go back to
basics and engage wholeheartedly with the first beatitude, blessed are the poor in spirit, and re-
learn that in all things we are utterly dependent upon God and that every good thing in us and
that happens through us is from him and not us. If we can cultivate that then the door stands open
for all the other beatitudes and the blessings that come with them.