In the last couple of years, the film series The Chosen has become quite popular. The episode at the end of season two portrays Jesus preparing for what will become the Sermon on the Mount. In the show, Jesus is accompanied by one of his disciples, Matthew. Jesus is preparing the words for the opening of the sermon, and Matthew is sleeping. Suddenly, Jesus comes to Matthew’s side and wakes him up—telling Matthew that he has finally found the right words with which to open the sermon.
Jesus tells Matthew that these opening words are like a map. Matthew is confused, wondering what Jesus means by calling it a “map.” So Jesus explains to Matthew that these words of blessing (which we know as the “Beatitudes”) are like a map because they will show people how they can meet Jesus and get close to him: by finding the people Jesus describes in the Beatitudes.
As I watched The Chosen, the Lord reminded me that He does indeed have a heart of mercy for people that the world thinks are “unlucky.” But these are the people that Jesus calls blessed. Jesus wants to show us that the heart of God is with the poor, the meek, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the ones who mourn, the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and the ones who are persecuted. If we want to meet Jesus and encounter him in our day-to-day lives, he has given us a map; he has shown us the way in which we can meet him and encounter him. We are to look for and meet the people that He calls blessed.
A few days ago, our family went to visit a church near our house. It’s only a seven-minute motorcycle ride, but it had been many years since we had visited this congregation. When we arrived at the church, a woman whom we have known for a long time greeted us and said: “Yosiah, did you come here to meet Jesus or to meet Irwan?” I looked around me, confused, as I did not know what she was talking about. “Who is Irwan? I do not know who he is.”
It turned out that Irwan was the new youth pastor who would be preaching that day. During the service, this new youth pastor preached a detailed sermon. He had clearly prepared with diligence. One of his sermon points was this: “Jesus is present in our Sunday morning services. Jesus met his disciples on Sunday (that first Sunday 2,000 years ago) after he had just risen from the dead, and so we as a congregation are required to meet together in church on Sundays, because Jesus is present here.”
There was nothing glaringly incorrect about this statement. I am sure that, yes, when we gather together as believers Jesus is indeed present. I believe that God is omnipresent and therefore of course is present in church. However, as we returned home after the service there were two questions that kept nudging my heart, and I have been pondering them ever since. Firstly, there was the question of whether I went to church to meet Jesus or to meet Irwan (someone that I did not know). And secondly, there was the question of whether the Lord Jesus is present in the church building every Sunday, along with the congregation. There is nothing wrong with these questions—or statements if you will—but in my heart a third question arose: Is Jesus only present in church? Can Christians only meet Jesus during the hours on Sunday morning when they sit inside a church building?
Multiple times, Christian friends have come to visit us in the slum in which we live. Bapak Sultan lives near us. He has a large body, dark tattooed skin, and long crazy hair. I always find it amusing (and yet slightly offensive) when our visitors ask, “Is Bapak Sultan dangerous? Has he bothered your ministry? Is he a trouble maker?” My answer is always the same: from the outside he may look like he is a “bad guy,” and perhaps he could do “bad things,” but he has always been friendly to us. In the mornings when we go for exercise walks, he is the first to greet us, and he often exchanges jokes with me. I remember one time he helped me push a broken-down car out of the way so that we could park our car.
Maybe these examples of good deeds that Bapak Sultan has done towards us seem like very small gestures, but to us they are not insignificant. People often want to add labels to others, stereotyping and stigmatizing people according to their outward appearance. However, I am convinced that Jesus invites us to meet him through people who are outsiders. People who are on the edges, are forgotten by society, and are viewed with suspicion like Bapak Sultan. The choice is in our hands: do we only want to meet Jesus when we are nicely dressed, wearing fancy shoes and a suit and tie in a church building? Or do we want to meet Jesus in our everyday lives, through people who are on the edges, who are oppressed, and even suspicious-looking? For it is actually these people that Jesus calls blessed.
If we call ourselves Christians, will we choose to continue to give negative labels to people—people who on the outside do not look like pastors, church elders, or other educated people—or will we have mercy on them? For it is people such as these who are poor, full of sorrow, hungry and thirsty for hope, and who have been persecuted all their lives (physically or mentally). Do we long to share the joyful news with them as Jesus did? Or do we just want to close our eyes and avoid them?
There is a beautiful image from the prophet Habakkuk: “But the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14 NRSV). One day the earth and all that is in it will be filled with the knowledge of knowing the Lord, the glory of salvation that Jesus worked on the cross for the whole world. This will be fulfilled when all believers are willing to meet Jesus outside the church walls and become bearers of the good news of peace and salvation through Jesus Christ in whatever communities the Lord places us in. May we seek out the people Jesus calls “blessed” — and learn to become them as well.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:3-10 NRSV)
Yosiah was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. He is married to Anita, and together they have lived and served in a slum community for the past decade with Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor. They have two young TCK sons. Yosiah loves making people laugh, washing his motorcycle, and playing music.