Here is what millions of church-goers of mainline denominations heard this past Sunday: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy…Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” These words are the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the most widely-read section of the whole bible. Although we read through much of this Sermon every three years in worship services, this past weekend we could not help but hear Jesus speaking directly to us, voicing opposition to the recent steps taken by the President and his administration to ban Muslim immigration and turn our back on refugees.
The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ first public discourse in the Gospel of Matthew, and it includes some of the most recognizable parts of Jesus’ teaching – the Golden Rule, the Lord’s Prayer, the exhortation to turn the other cheek, and many other pieces of wisdom that have found their way into our culture. The opening blessings of his Sermon – known as the Beatitudes – serve as a primer for all that will follow in his teachings.
And yet, because they are so well-known, we tend not to think too much about the Beatitudes or the Golden Rule. Parts of the Beatitudes are so recognizable, especially the verse that reads “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” that we hardly listen to them anymore. We hear them at weddings. We see them on cards. Some of us know them by heart.
But this year especially, the Beatitudes, and the whole Sermon on the Mount deserve to be heard with fresh ears. Because Jesus is reminding us in no uncertain terms that it is the poor and the meek and the persecuted – the very refugees that our country is turning its back on – who are the ones who especially matter to God. And they should matter to us.
There are two kinds of blessings in this prelude to Jesus’ vision for the world. In the first few verses, those who have been downtrodden and oppressed – the poor in spirit, the meek, the grieving, the marginalized and reviled – will be blessed and lifted up and comforted. God has compassion for those left out, pushed out, and kept out. And the other Beatitudes ask us to have compassion, too – they call the disciples, and ultimately all Christians, into action. We are called to hunger and thirst for justice, to be merciful, and to act genuinely rather than for show. We are called not just to keep the peace, but also to make peace.
If the Beatitudes are the short introductory statement for the Sermon on the Mount, the crystallization of it is even more simply summed up in the Golden Rule: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” This is the mic-drop moment for Christians and an eternal truth for all the world’s major religions. It is not always easy, but it is that simple. We must treat others with respect and dignity and compassion, because that is how we want to be treated. God loves us and simply asks us to share that love with each other.
To do anything other than show compassion and love to refugees, and anyone else who is marginalized and vulnerable, is a misrepresentation of what Jesus taught. Banning refugees is a disgrace. The church must not be silent about this.
The Reverend Susan E. Hill is the Associate Rector of the Church of the Holy Apostles, home to New York City’s largest emergency feeding program. Prior to becoming an Episcopal priest, she worked as a Financial Analyst on Wall Street.