Worrying is definitely a problem because of how much it hinders our lives.
The message at the heart of Epiphany is that God shows up. And where does God show up? In a podunk village, among a peasant family, in the company of roughneck shepherds and smelly livestock, and not in Herod’s palace. In a manger, not on a throne.
That’s what Matthew aims to do, in fact, is to tell in his gospel the story of God’s power and presence come among us in a new way, of God among us in the Messiah in a way that we did not, could not expect.
This idea of offering what it is we have in order to make the world a better place, is what it means to see the face of Christ in the face of our neighbor.
Of course it’s deeply a part of our human nature to be risk-averse. But security is not at the heart of the kingdom, Jesus says. To follow him sometimes entails taking a step outside of our comfort zones or risking life, resources, or reputation for what is right.
“Blessed” is also colored with those wonderful Hebrew Bible concepts of salvation and shalom—peace, wholeness, well-being. So you won’t get a list from Jesus on “9 Steps to Your Best Life Now” with these pronouncments. You will, however, get a sense for what life is like in the Commonwealth of God, in the coming reality of life lived under the Rule of God.
As much as we aspire to be God’s people of loving justice, we all have “Caesar in our pocket.” It’s a trap. The money in our 401ks; the carbon we burn; the racial, gender, sexual, abled privilege we rest upon; all of that has Caesar’s face stamped upon it. So what does one do? How do we express our allegiance to God? Give it back.
There’s a lot of guidance for us in this Book about how to follow a different path, with the help and the grace of God’s Spirit. There are alternatives to the violent cycles of the world within it: forgiveness, compassion, telling the truth with integrity. They’re painfully slow and they take a lifetime to practice, but they’re the only way out.
Maybe what Jesus is trying to teach Peter by replying with such an outlandishly large number is that mercy takes repetition in order to gather strength. In other words, forgiveness takes practice. Maybe it’s something we never “get right,” so we have to keep at it.