Surprising Priorities

Life_in_Tension_webFor we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,

but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When we accept Christ into our lives, we begin the journey from our natural selves to the person that God created us to be. In a real sense, we begin exchanging the acts of the flesh for the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:19-23). These exchanges are far from hypothetical and are tied to our self-image, understanding of our faith, and our relationships. For example, if we exchange an idolatrous relationship with our work for a faithful relationship with God, we are likely also to see a blossoming of our faith and a change in priorities. Each exchange is painful and may involve losses that must be grieved. God also sees these changes.

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection provide us an important template for our journey of faith. This is because Jesus also faced tensions with himself, with God, and with others (Phil 3:10-11). In the Beatitudes, each of these tensions is present and articulated. The first three Beatitudes focus on tension with one’s self (humility, mourning, and meakness). The second three Beatitudes focus on tension with God (zeal, mercy, and holiness). The last three Beatitudes focus on tension with others (peacemaking, persecution, and being reviled).

What is most striking about Jesus’ Beatitudes is that they reveal priorities very different from our own. Jesus places a strong emphasis on humility. Humility is seldom the focus of self-help books—we are more likely to find such books focused on assertiveness training or building self-esteem. Another divine priority is mourning. Mourning is the only emotion among the Beatitudes—why does Jesus not highlight love or joy? Still another surprising priority is mercy. Mercy is one of God’s core values—the first one (Exod 34:6). Finally, the ultimate paradox in Jesus’ teaching comes when he admonishes us to treat persecution as a teachable moment: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt 5:44).

Jesus’ priorities are not naturally our own.

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