Episode 3 Transcript

Episode 3: A More Perfect Union


What is it that makes a nation great? At the heart of it, greatness is bound up with thriving. A great nation is one where the common trait shared by its citizens is one of well-being. In a great nation, there is peace. Peace between neighbors, between communities, and between nations. There is justice for those who, in other nations, are pushed to the edges, especially the poor. In a great nation, there is a shared sense of hope and confidence in what tomorrow will bring.

National greatness is one of the themes lurking behind the scenes in the gospel of Matthew. The book of Matthew was written late in the 1st century, after the fall of Jerusalem—decades after the events that are described in its pages. Likely, it was written in the city of Antioch, home to refugees who escaped the slaughter of the Roman army’s crushing of the Jewish insurrection. 

In Matthew, we see one side of a fiery argument between two of those refugee communities. The argument is about national greatness. About what went wrong that led to the loss of the temple, about why God let it happen, about whose fault it was, and most importantly, about what needed to happen now to get back to a place of greatness, of thriving.

On one side of the argument you have the Pharisees, who in a sense can be thought of as a conservative political party, or, maybe even better, as good, solid church people. In the previous two episodes, Simeon has been our stand-in for the voice of this group. 

On the other side of this fiery argument you have the growing band of christians in Antioch. One of their leaders was Matthew, the other voice in our imaginary conversation, and the author of the gospel that gives us their side of the argument.

Let’s check in with Simeon and Matthew, to see where they are in their disagreement:

Simeon: If you’ll recall, Matthew, many of the people who agreed with John the Baptizer were people of my party.

Matthew: Yes… If memory serves, John called them a nest of snakes, or some such…

Simeon: [flustered] Oh… well, yes…. But he didn’t mean ALL of them. Some of us saw the same corruption he saw. How else could we have been allied with people like the Herods? So I get the name-calling. But my point is that we saw the problems, too. We agreed with John about the need for a national repentance. 

Matthew: Ok, so why are we arguing?

Simeon: You know very well why we’re arguing! [takes breath] 

I think you’re being willfully obtuse.

…The foundation of our nation was built on a set of laws. Those laws act as markers that set us apart from other nations. They define who we are as a people, what we’re supposed to be about. They create a boundary line, based on the character of the people, that is more real than any line on a map.

Real national repentance should take us back inside those boundaries, back to that national character. But your Jesus showed no respect for the law. He just wanted to throw the whole thing out!

Matthew: Simeon, this may surprise you, but Jesus did not come to do away the law. He came to fulfill it.

Simeon: What?

Matthew: Way back when our nation was founded, we were set apart for a special purpose. Do you remember this? Our nation was supposed to be a conduit of blessing for all people. Not just the ones inside our boundaries, whether those boundaries were lines on a map or the distinguishing marks of the law that you’re referring to.

God has always cared just as much for those outside the boundary lines as he has for those inside. Jesus came to fulfill the purpose that was always at the core of the reason for our existence as a nation. He came to fulfill the law.

Opening Titles:

This is—

Jesus for Sex Workers, Church People, and Me

A podcast hosted by Todd Austin

Episode Three: A More Perfect Union

The Teaching

We the People of the United States, 

in Order to form a more perfect Union, 

establish Justice, 

insure domestic Tranquility, 

provide for the common defense, 

promote the general Welfare, 

and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, 

do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

These 52 words form one of most recognizable sentences in the English language, especially if you are a citizen of the United States. Schoolhouse Rock and Barney Fife helped lock these words deep into our brains. Even as I read them just now, I had a hard time not falling into the rhythm of the song. These 52 words make up the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America. 

The constitution is THE foundational document of America. It defines the framework for how the people will be governed, the various powers that are set aside for specifically defined branches of government, and the powers that are reserved for the people themselves. It provides a template for a system of laws. Laws designed to promote justice, peace, and general flourishing. The constitution lays out what will distinguish this one nation from every other nation on the earth. 

Every nation has its own version of a constitution—a set of ideas that sit at the foundation of its shared, corporate identity. The book of Deuteronomy served this purpose for ancient Israel. 

Deuteronomy is set in one long, momentous day, on the eastern side of Jordan River—the same river where, a millennium later, John the Baptizer would preach his message of national repentance. Moses is giving the people of Israel their final instructions before they cross the Jordan into the promised land. He reminds them of where they’ve come from, and he gives them a second reading of the law. The law that will set them apart from every other nation they will encounter. 

Like the American constitution, Deuteronomy defines the framework for how the people will be governed, the various powers that are set aside for specifically defined branches of government, and the powers that are forbidden them. It provides a template for a system of laws. Laws designed to promote justice, peace, and general flourishing. 

Deuteronomy is the constitution for the ancient people of Israel.

And when Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness, he responded to all three temptations by quoting from this constitution. 


In the last episode we skipped over Matthew chapter two so we could talk about John the Baptizer and the temptations Jesus faced when he was fasting. In chapter two, Matthew gives us an account of some of the events of Jesus’s childhood. He doesn’t tell us everything we might want to know. Instead, like in the genealogies, Matthew cherry-picks certain stories to tell us about, because he wants to make a specific point. 

In chapter two we are introduced to a king named Herod. This king was known for his massive building projects, including a great new temple for the Jewish people in Jerusalem.

He was also known for his paranoia, and his ruthlessness.

When Herod gets wind of a prophecy about a new king of the Jews who has just been born, his paranoia and ruthlessness sink to new lows. Since he can’t figure out the exact identity of the child the prophecy foretold, he orders the execution of all the children born in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger. 

Joseph, Jesus’s father, is warned in a dream to go to Egypt and to stay there until he gets word to come back. And so, through the continued faithful actions of his parents, Jesus escapes Herod’s murderous plot.

Later, after Herod dies, the angel tells Joseph to return home. And so Jesus comes up out of Egypt, and back to his homeland.


Does this storyline remind you of someone? Because it should. Matthew is telling the story of Jesus in a way that follows the story arc of someone else, someone who has gone unnamed. Moses.

Moses was born under the reign of a murderous king, too. Not a Herod, but a Pharaoh. A king also known for building projects. That king was worried about threats to his rule, just like Herod. That king ordered the killing of babies in order to eliminate that threat, just like Herod. 

Moses, just like Jesus, escaped the plot through the faithful actions of his parents. Moses is taken in by a daughter of Pharaoh, and like Jesus, has a royal pedigree.

Moses has to flee Egypt, able to return only after the death of Pharaoh. Jesus had to flee to Egypt, and was able to return only after the death of Herod.

If that’s not enough for you, Matthew gives us more. Jesus goes to the Jordan River, a location that plays a huge role in the story of Moses. There he chooses to turn away from the way he was raised. Moses has to make a similar choice. Jesus hears the voice of God. Moses hears the voice of God.

Moses goes up on the mountain for 40 days. Jesus goes into the wilderness for 40 days. And, while he’s there, he quotes the words of Moses from Deuteronomy.

Jesus proclaims the coming of “the kingdom of heaven,” in essence a new nation being established for the first time. Moses leads a new nation out of Egypt, what the Bible describes as a great crowd of people. And the last verse of chapter four of Mathew tells us that a great crowd was following Jesus.

Are you getting the picture? Matthew is emphasizing events from the life of Jesus that anyone in his audience would have instantly recognized as the story of Moses.

The Story Today

We miss a lot of what Matthew is trying to say in the first four chapters, because the stories he tells don’t set off the same bells in our heads, as they would have for his original audience. If we try to translate Matthew into our time and place, we can get an approximate, but imperfect feel for what he is doing.

He would start by telling us about a new political star who has come on the scene. He would tell us about a genealogy that includes a lot of American Presidents, starting with Jefferson—but through Sally Hemmings. And Eisenhower, through Kay Summersby. Kennedy, through Marilyn Monroe. And Clinton, through Monica Lewinsky. 

We would hear about his birth in the Log Cabin trailer park in Illinois. About how as a boy he chopped down a cherry tree, but then couldn’t tell a lie about it.

This story would be ringing bells for us, right? Who could this be? Is this real?

What if the story went further, and we were told about huge crowds attending this new star’s political rallies. How both parties were courting him to become their candidate, but that he turned them down, saying that the political parties were corrupt, that the government no longer worked, and that it was time for a new way.

And then, if we saw a live broadcast of this new star, this quintessential American, standing on the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and we heard him start his speech by saying “We the People of the New United States, in order to form a better, more perfect union…” We would likely have chills running down our spines at the magnitude of what we were witnessing. He’s talking about revolution.

That’s the picture Matthew paints for us.

If Deuteronomy is the equivalent of the constitution for ancient Israel, then the part that would have been as unmistakeable to Matthew’s audience as the preamble is to us, would be this part from Deuteronomy chapter 28:

Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.

Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.

Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.

Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.

These words are echoing loudly throughout the beginning of the fifth chapter of Matthew. Jesus sits down on the side of a mountain, and using this same formula from Deuteronomy, announces nine “blesseds,” which we call the Beatitudes. It’s as explosive as if he were saying, “We the people of the New United States, in order to form a new, more perfect union…” He’s about to lay out the constitution for a new nation.

Can you imagine how threatening this would be to the political powers, then or now? How people who are fed up with the way things are might hear it? And how they might attribute their own expectations and grievances to his intentions: expectations about cleaning out the swamp, marching on Jerusalem, or marching on Washington? Can you see how people from diverse and even incompatible backgrounds and beliefs might be willing to line up behind him?

This helps make sense of what we see later in the gospels. It gives us an understanding of why the Jewish and Roman authorities felt so threatened by Jesus. It explains why the crowds followed him in huge numbers, and also why many of them ended up turning away when their expectations for violent revolution were not met. It opens our eyes to how the disciples could be so wrong about what his plans were, and about what their role in his revolution would be.

We can see how they completely misunderstood what Jesus meant when he announced this new nation. 

But their idea about what he meant was closer to the truth than ours is.

The Kingdom of Heaven

When we think about the kingdom of Heaven, our minds go immediately to the afterlife. To that sweet by-and-by, that beautiful shore, that reward for the faithful where, one day, hopefully many days and years from now, we’ll be in heaven. But that kind of kingdom is no threat to anyone in the here and now. If that is the kingdom Jesus was talking about, then the reactions we see in Matthew make no sense.

But that’s not what Jesus was talking about. Jesus was talking about a kingdom in the here and now. A kingdom that has “come near,” to use his words. It is a kingdom that is a threat to human kings, and to human presidents. But it’s not a violent threat. It’s a threat to their relevance.

It is a kingdom that came into existence when Jesus announced it here in Matthew, and it still exists today. It is a nation defined by a constitution. A constitution that lays out how the people of this nation will be distinguishable from the people of every other nation on earth.

The constitution of this nation is what we call the Sermon on the Mount. We’ll be going into the Sermon starting with the next episode. For the remainder of this episode let’s talk about the preamble to this constitution, the nine “blesseds” that make up the Beatitudes. 

The Beatitudes Preamble

If you grew up in church, and maybe even if you didn’t, the Beatitudes are one of those passages—like the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and John 3:16—that are so familiar that we don’t really even think about them when we hear them. The Beatitudes could be renamed “the Platitudes” for most people, because the nine blessings have no independent meaning in our minds, other than as a vague collective encouragement to be good church people.

But these are not the Platitudes. And “beatitude” is not a word that either Jesus or Matthew uses. So let’s drop both. It will be more helpful, and more accurate, to think of this passage in the way we have been using it in this episode— as the preamble to the constitution of a new nation.

This preamble tells us what the citizens of this new nation will be like. It tells us the traits that, in this nation, will lead to greatness. Even the word “blessed” itself points to this greatness. Blessed means a state of well-being, of human thriving, “promoting the general welfare,” if you will. 

The first statement in this preamble is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

In church, we’ve redefined this trait as humility. We focus on the phrase poor “in spirit.” What kind of spirit are we to have? Not a haughty spirit, not a I’m-full-of-myself spirit, but a poor spirit, a humble spirit. 

But that completely misses the point of what this first statement is about. In fact, when Luke tells us about this statement in his gospel, he doesn’t even include the phrase “in spirit,” so that can’t be the focus of what Jesus is saying. 

The focus is on the word poor. The people of this kingdom will be the poor. 

If you want to extend it just a bit, if you want to make room for the “poor in spirit” part, you could also say that the people of this kingdom are remarkably unattached to wealth or possessions. Money has no hold on them, and it is not something they strive for, make the goal of their life, or use as the scorecard for whether they are successful or not. 

For the people of this nation, money is not the way to secure their happiness or future. Contrary to common sense, they are just as happy, maybe even more happy, when they have little as when they have plenty.

The second statement of the preamble is, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” 

This is not a metaphor. This is a nation for people who are mourning. 

If, after just two statements, you’re thinking, “Ugh. I’m not sure this kingdom is for me,” then you’re hearing these traits clearly. But stick with me. This kingdom IS for you.

Mourning is something that everyone experiences. But some try to escape it, to avoid it at any cost. This kingdom is not for those who run away from pain, who live a life of escapism. It’s not for those who hop from one party to the next, from one carefully curated experience to another, always staying one step ahead of anything hard. This kingdom is not for those who pretend the pain of the world isn’t real, or who don’t have time for it.

This kingdom is for those who suffer. And for those who choose to be with the suffering, to join them in their pain. This kingdom is for those who move toward suffering, who run toward the fire, not away from it.

The third statement of the preamble is, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” 

Can you think of any political party, or any nation, now or ever, that promotes the word “meek” as a desired and defining characteristic of its people? No. We celebrate the powerful. The people who get things done. The forceful. 

But not in this kingdom. The people of this kingdom have repented of power. As we talked about in the second episode, they have turned away from the paths of influence that have to do with control, force, and law. Instead, these are people who embrace the roles at the bottom of the pyramid. These are the people who serve, not the ones who want to be served. They are the meek.

The fourth statement of the preamble is, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” 

Most of us have never experienced the kind of hunger Jesus is talking about here. This is not, “I had to skip lunch today and boy, am I hungry!” This is the kind of hunger that happens when you haven’t eaten in days. It is an existential craving for something, in this case righteousness.

Righteousness does not mean being a good church person. It is not the ethical quality of a person. If we associate righteousness with something we’ve done, or something we are, then we don’t understand it. Righteousness is a status that is given to a person. In the Bible, the word righteousness is related to the mighty saving acts of God in the past. 

This statement describes a person who is craving the saving action of God. Someone who says, “Come and fix us. Come and fix me.”

The fifth statement of the preamble is, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” 

This trait lies at the very heart of Matthew’s gospel. It means exactly what it says. The people of this kingdom are characterized by their unusual, unprecedented, inexplicable propensity to be generously merciful to those who don’t deserve it, to those who have wronged them, to those who are supposed to be their enemies.

The sixth statement of the preamble is, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” 

Purity was a big deal to the Pharisees, like Simeon. It’s still a big deal to good church people today. But in this case, the qualifier “in heart” is essential to the point Jesus is making. This is not about those who are able to uphold the purity codes, either then or now. 

Later in this gospel, Jesus will talk about a cup that is clean on the outside, versus one that is clean on the inside. That’s the kind of purity he is talking about here. It’s a purity that somehow applies to Tamar, the woman who disguised herself as a prostitute and committed incest with her father-in-law. It somehow applies to the sex workers that find their way into the group of disciples following Jesus. And it somehow does not apply to a great many who are really good at keeping the outside of their cup clean.

The seventh statement of the preamble is, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” 

The people of this new nation are not the ones who stoke the fires of division and conflict. They’re not the ones who storm the capitol with a cross on one shoulder and an AK-47 on the other. The people of this new nation do not affect change in the world through violence, or through sowing hatred, or by dividing people into camps of those who are with us and those who are against us.

The people of this kingdom are not the ones who stand on the sidelines, not the ones who say, “It’s not my problem.”

Peacemakers are the ones who cross the lines that divide people. The ones who engage with their neighbors with whom they disagree. The ones who reconcile. The people of this new nation are the ones who make peace.

And they are called “children of God,” because making peace is what God himself does. It is peacemaking that shows the family resemblance between God and his true children, the citizens of this kingdom.

The eighth statement of the preamble is, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The ninth statement is similar, but more extensive. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Persecution is an idea that is en vogue among good church people. If you walk into just about any evangelical church, there’s a good chance you’ll hear someone talk about the persecution christians are experiencing for standing up to the culture, for standing up for what’s right. You might even hear them quote these particular verses from Matthew, in a bit of self-justification.

But the persecution Jesus is talking about is coming from the good church people. It was the community of believers that persecuted the prophets. It is the religious that revile Jesus and his followers. It is the outwardly pure who utter all kinds of false witness against them. 

The people of this new nation will be treated as the enemy, as traitors, by those who think of themselves as the righteous, by the good church people.

With these nine “blesseds,” Jesus is staking a claim to what national greatness is really about. He’s laying out the character traits of the citizens of a new nation. A nation that looks very different from any nation on earth before or since.


You see, Simeon, we made a mistake. A big mistake. We forgot that God is God, and we are not. We’ve acted like the older child who thought she was in charge while the parents were away. We thought what God wanted had to do with a clean kitchen, about eating our vegetables before dessert, and about no more than 30 minutes of TV before bedtime. And we have been harsh, violent, and destructive in enforcing those standards. But what he wants is our well-being. He wants us to thrive.

Jesus came to reestablish that God is in charge, and we are not. He came to establish a state, a new nation, of well-being, of blessedness, for all people. For the oldest child, and for the younger siblings.

We have to be a people who can let go. We have to truly believe God is real and that he is doing the things he says he will, and we don’t have to do them for him. Otherwise, this is all just some bizarre upside-down puppet show, where the puppets are the ones controlling the puppeteer. And the puppeteer seems remarkably disengaged, or perhaps absent altogether. 

Test This Teaching

The way we were taught to read Scripture causes us to miss the seismic rumblings we should be feeling when we study these passages. These words represented a tectonic shift in thinking for Matthew’s audience. When we read them, we should feel the same shaking under our feet. The Beatitudes, this preamble to the Sermon on the Mount, challenge the foundational elements of our communal identity just as much as they challenged Matthew’s audience. Jesus is talking about a revolution.

Part of what makes this hard for us is that we don’t really believe Jesus when he says these things. We can get behind a revolution. But a nation, or a church, built on the ideas in the Beatitudes doesn’t make any sense to us. It’s the powerful who get things done, not the meek. Justice only works with appropriate punishment, not mercy. Peace comes through strength, through winning, not from crossing lines. 

I come back to the message from episode two: If we want to experience the kingdom of heaven, there is an urgent need for repentance. A need for turning from a way that seems right, but that always fails in the end. And, just to clear, I’m talking about good church people repenting. Not the politicians, or Hollywood, or the cultural elite, or even all those sinners.

Once again, I invite you to test this teaching. Think about the things we’ve covered in this episode. Does Matthew really want us to see Moses, and a new Deuteronomy, in the life and words of Jesus? 

Is the way I’ve interpreted the Beatitudes consistent with teaching that follows in Matthew? Are the definitions I’m using for purity, righteousness, peacemaking, and persecution in line with what we see walked out later in the book? I think you will find that they are. But if not, I welcome the feedback on the podcast website, JesusForSexWorkers.com.

Once again, and always, always, always—the second, bigger test is the one that a teaching must pass. The big test is, if you apply this teaching to your life, will it make you look more like Jesus, or less? Will following this teaching bring your footsteps more closely into alignment with his footsteps? Is how I’m defining these nine “blesseds” consistent with the character of Jesus? If what I’m teaching does not pass this test, if any teaching does not pass this test, then it must be discarded. Please test the teaching I’ve presented here against that standard.

I suspect that you hold some ideas from the past that need to be left behind, because they do not pass this test. If you’re feeling some discomfort, a sense of being pulled in two different directions, if you hear the ring of truth in what I’m saying but it conflicts with something you were told in Sunday School, then I encourage you to do some self-reflection, and some testing, under the penetrating light of prayer. And please, keep listening.

We’re going to look more closely at this new nation, the kingdom of heaven, as we dive into the Sermon on the Mount, starting with the next episode. I hope you’ll join us. 

That’s it for this episode. Thanks for listening.

Closing Credits

This has been Jesus for Sex Workers, Church People, and Me

Join the discussion at JesusForSexWorkers.com.

The content of this podcast is copyright 2023, by Todd Austin. All rights reserved.