My son Ethan loves to play video games. Alright, I kinda like to play, too. I particularly enjoy the ones we can play together. Some of his favorite is the line of Lego video games featuring all of the comic book superheroes — Batman, Superman and the Avengers.
An integral part of the gameplay revolves around puzzles. These take all kinds of forms, but the strategy is always the same. If you find the right buttons and push them in the right order, you unlock the key to moving on to the next level. After a while you develop a rhythm and it gets easier to work the pattern and finish the game.
The game becomes all about manipulating the system to get what you want.
I’m thinking about these games as we begin this series on the Beatitudes. As Trevor pointed out earlier this week, we have a tendency to look at this like a string of “if…then” statements. If I will mourn or be poor in spirit or show mercy or make peace, then God will bless me.
As if God was simply some type of mystical puzzle waiting for us to push the right religious buttons in the correct order.
This is the way some people approach religion. In order to get what I want, there are some hoops to jump through. So if I will say the right prayers or attend the right church meetings or perform the right acts of service, then I will get my blessed payout. And they go to Scripture looking for that key, that roadmap that will show them what they need to do to make life start to go their way.
I get that temptation. It would honestly be so much simpler if it worked that way. But it doesn’t.
That manipulate-my-way-to-blessing religious system doesn’t work. And it’s not what you see Jesus doing here. In this series of sayings in Matthew 5 he isn’t handing out prescriptions; he’s dispensing descriptions on how life really works.
I see Jesus doing this a lot in his ministry. Instead of giving people a to-do list or a color-by-number way of approaching life, he instead tells stories about the world. When he talks about the kingdom of God, he’s not talking about some far off reward. It’s about our world — the one he created — and the realities of the way things are.
So when he talks about experiencing grief or being at the end of your rope or feeling lowly or when people say things about you…he’s not saying do A, B, or C to work your way to blessing in these situations. He’s saying when you have these foundational human experiences, open your eyes.
Because you are blessed in those moments. You just may not realize it.
The real truth is that although these situations may not be fun, they are opportunities for connection and peace and community and comfort and joy and wisdom and restoration.
And when we avoid them or numb ourselves to these realities or try to play religious games and manipulate our way, we end up missing the real blessing that’s available.
So through these statements Jesus is urging us to align ourselves with the reality of the universe. To open our eyes and see the world as it is rather than trying to manipulate it into something simpler or easier. Because the Kingdom is not some prize on the other side of a door waiting for you to push the right buttons or say the right things.
It’s a reality that it right in front of us.
We just have to stop playing the game and pay attention. Because God is present. And that’s the real blessing.