Blessed Are The Cheesemakers?

15th February 2022

If you’ve seen Monty Python’s controversial film, ‘The Life of Brian’ you may remember the scene where people on the edge of the crowd are finding it difficult to hear what Jesus is saying. The conversation goes like this:

‘What was that?’ 
‘I think it was blessed are the cheesemakers.’
‘What’s so special about cheesemakers?’
‘It’s not to be taken literally, it refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.’
‘Hear that? Blessed are the Greek. Apparently, he’s going to inherit the earth.’
‘Did anyone get his name?’

It’s a rather irreverent take on what are called the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus actually said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ and ‘Blessed are the meek’!

In today’s reading (Luke 6:17-26) we have Luke’s account of the beatitudes and we find that a great crowd of Jesus’ disciples were there, as well as a multitude of people from all over the country. They are drawn to Jesus the teacher and to Jesus the healer. And Jesus is so extraordinary that people were reaching out to touch him because the power to heal radiated from him.

And Jesus’ extraordinary power to heal was matched by his extraordinary and radical teaching in which he contrasts those who are blessed with those who need to heed his warning.

Who do you consider blessed? According to the adverts on TV we might think the blessed are those who can afford new kitchens and sofas and the latest phones and cars. The blessed are the wealthy, the holiday makers and the lottery winners. The blessed are the beautiful, the carefree and the popular.

But what does Jesus mean by being blessed?

Do you remember how Mary responds when she was told that she would bring Jesus into the world? Mary says that God ‘has looked with favour on me … Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.’

To be blessed is to be one on whom God’s favour rests, but instead of this being the wealthy, beautiful and popular, Jesus says that the fortunate people are the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful and the reviled!

Someone has said, ‘Jesus exalts what the world despises and rejects what the world admires.’

We could paraphrase it as follows: ‘O the happiness of those who have little, the ones who are empty, those who are sad and hated. How terrible for those who are rich and full, those who laugh and are popular.’

Jesus challenges us to think again, to reverse our natural aspirations and to see things differently.

So, what does he mean?

I’d like to suggest two different interpretations. One is more literal and focusses on the future and the other is less literal and focusses more on the present.

So, here is the first approach:

Recently I spent some time with a young man with complex disabilities and on that particular day he was really distressed.

I found myself thinking about a parable found later in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus describes a rich man living in luxury and a poor man on the street outside his gate. Jesus says that they both die and beyond death the poor man is welcomed by Abraham, while the rich man ends up in a bad place.

As I saw that young man with all his difficulties and distress I thought about that parable and it seemed clear to me that God’s love will make sure that he is compensated for the challenges he has had to face in this life. Surely, God will want to reverse his fortunes in the life to come, just like in the parable.

Is this what Jesus is alluding to in today’s passage? That those who have been given a raw deal in this life will be compensated in the life to come? That those who are poor and hungry and sorrowful will not be like this forever. Love and justice will prevail.

Is part of the good news of the gospel that those who suffer and weep now, will one day be free and full? And if that is God’s intention, surely, we should partner with God to promote compassion, love and justice now and not merely wait for God to bring it about in the future.

Didn’t Jesus say that he had come ‘to preach good news to the poor’? Didn’t he say that ‘the first will be last and the last first’?

This is one way of reflecting on Jesus’ message, but if we look at Matthew’s account, we see that he includes another dimension. Jesus says, you who are ‘poor in spirit’ and you who ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness.’

So, Jesus is saying, blessed are the spiritually poor, because those who know their spiritual poverty, those who recognise their need of God, are in a position to receive God’s grace and share in his kingdom.

And blessed are the spiritually hungry, because those who are hungry for God, those who yearn to be right with God, will be spiritually satisfied.

Blessed are those who weep, because those who are sorrowful for their own shortcomings, will know the joy of forgiveness.

To be part of God’s kingdom we have to recognise our need of God’s help. We can’t be part of God’s plans if we think we can do it in our own strength and on our own merits.

The warning is for those who are self-sufficient and those who have little appetite for the things of God and those who feel no sorrow for their sins.

The blessed are not the strong. The blessed are those who know their own spiritual weakness. The blessed are not those who are satisfied with the things of this world. The blessed are those who yearn for more. The blessed are not the happy, but those who take seriously the sadness of sin.

Do you feel spiritually poor? Be glad because you qualify for God’s kingdom.

Do you feel empty and hungry for God? Rejoice, you will be filled.

Do you feel sorrow for your shortcomings? Receive God’s forgiveness and be joyful.

And finally, what of popularity?

Jesus says that you are getting things wrong if you are greeted with unanimous approval. If you suffer rejection or hatred because of your faith in Jesus, rejoice because that is the mark of those who are being true to their calling and their reward will be great.

Jesus challenges us to see things the right way up where we are inclined to get them upside down.

As the Apostle Paul said, God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.’ And God says, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’

In chapter 18 of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus told this parable:
‘Two people went up to the temple to pray. One standing by himself said, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the other, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled.

Revd Stephen Golding