Beatitudes

Blessed are the Underachievers

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land/earth” (Matt 5:5).

One of the curses of high school is to be awarded the “Most Likely To Succeed” badge in your senior yearbook. Some rise to the occasion and become the brain surgeon or world-changing leader, while others end up the most successful overnight janitor mopping the floors at Walmart.

A less prestigious “Senior Superlative” in my yearbook was the “Class Mooch.” This title typically goes to the classmate always begging people for spare change for the vending machine, or constantly mooching rides because they don’t have a car, or were too lazy to get their license at all. If they had a car, you can be sure they were asking you to pitch in on gas whenever they gave you a ride. 

While the “Most Likely To Succeed” badge may come with a superstitious curse attached, the “Class Mooch” has a  very real cultural curse attached to it. In America we celebrate self-made successful people, and look down on the moochers who are dependent on others. Just like in Jesus’ day, we today have been taught to think “Blessed are the overachievers,” and we don’t know what to do with an upside-down Kingdom that says, “Blessed are the meek” who fail to grab life by the horns but instead hide in the shadows and wait for fortune to smile upon them.

What are we to do with this 3rd Beatitude of Bethlehem that suggest that the welfare check collectors and food shelf shoppers—the underachievers of society—may “inherit the land” and gain the Kingdom blessings ahead of the ambitious, successful go-getter types? 

This is where it’s important to clarify that, contrary to much preaching and teaching on the Beatitudes, not all of these are positive virtues Christians are supposed to strive for. It’s not really a virtue to be poor, or to mourn, or to be persecuted. While many sermons have tried to twist “meekness” into a virtue (like humility), that may not be the main point Jesus is making.

Instead, the entire point Jesus seems to be making is that His upside-down Kingdom is especially good news for those who find themselves failing to make any headway in the world’s economy. The less gifted and more challenged underachievers are being eaten alive in the dog-eat-dog world that rewards those who climb over others to get to the top. The rich keep getting richer, while the poor keep getting pushed further to the margins. This was Jesus’ world, and this is our world—the one huge difference being we have some safety nets and social assistance programs for the poor, while the poor and meek of Jesus’ day had no hope of getting anything, let alone inheriting the earth or land!   

The central message of Jesus’ upside-down Kingdom is that He offers good news to the poor and needy losers, and offers a stern warning for the proud and self-sufficient winners in society. He’s not opposed to the winners and hard-working overachievers; he  just knows they tend to be less receptive to His message about free handouts of grace and forgiveness to undeserving screw-ups.

We need only re-read the stories surrounding Jesus’ birth to watch this upside-down Kingdom on the march. These stories give center stage to the “meek” who were forced to mooch off others to survive (Mary & Joseph, shepherds) while leaving the worldly success stories standing exposed and humiliated off to the side (Herod, religious leaders), or left off stage altogether (Caesar). 

Nowhere do we see this Great Reversal at work than in Mary’s song or Christmas canticle in Luke 1:47-53:

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

Mary bursts into song out of the shock and joy that God has chosen to bring His Kingdom to the world through a meek, stay-at-home mom to be, who would never graduate high school let alone get a college degree. What has she done to earn this successful position in God’s start-up company? What was it on Mary’s resume that made God “mindful” of her above all the other applicants on his divine desk? 

All I can see (in the next line) is that she didn’t earn the position, but was a recipient of God’s merciful act and her main quality was that she “feared God.” That is, instead of working to make herself look awesome and worthy of other’s esteem and reverence, she live in humble awe of God and with hands ready to receive any favor He might choose to bestow upon a servant. While those “most likely to succeed” in our world are constantly  showcasing their own mighty deeds, God seeks humble servants desiring instead to proclaim God’s mighty deeds.

While our world gives the promotion or raise to those who are “proud in their inmost thoughts,” God wants no such people in leadership positions in His Kingdom and Church. Followers of Jesus who want to be leaders in the upside-down kingdom, should be found lowering themselves to the level of a servant and washing the feet of the least of these. For “He has broughtdown rulers and successful CEOs from their thrones and corner offices, but has lifted up the humble and promoted the perpetually passed-over underachiever to VP!

In a world where many are hungry for personal achievement and worldly accolades, the Beatitudes of Bethlehem  invite us to become people who hunger and thirst more for God’s righteousness than for our own career advancement. “He fills the hungry, childlike moochers with good things, but has sent the rich and successful self-made prodigies away empty.” 

Jesus is raising up a countercultural corporation comprised of charitable losers and second-place finishers, back room employees who suck at self-promotion, and humble servants content with their lowly position and meager paycheck because they know they will someday inherit the entire earth and mooch eternally off of God!

In year when so many of our human plans came to naught, and a Christmas season where beloved traditions will be foregone, may we find ourselves in the company of the Mary and the meek whose hearts revere God and wait patiently for His favor to fall.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (or land)” (Matt 5:5).

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought” (Matt 5:5).

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