Friday, January 28, 2005

Beatitudes

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

So it seems that the question to wrestle with here is… is God’s favor shown upon those who strive to live in this way? Is that how we might earn God’s reward? And just what would that reward be? What would we have to do to be ‘poor in spirit’ or ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness?’ Why would we strive to mourn? Do we mourn to earn God’s comfort?

I want to submit to a knee-jerk reaction of Lutheranism and state that of course we don’t earn God’s favor by doing these things. I want to hold out that our actions stem as a response from God’s bestowal of blessing. But just what does God bestowing his blessing upon us mean?

The Greek word used here for “Blessed” is makarios. And often it is translated as “happy.” And we are left to wrestle even more I think, because I don’t think that everything that makes us “happy” is a blessing from God. It’s just too often that people are happy with less than what God wants to give us. That is the heart of our brokenness, we want less than what God wants.

How can it be that we are happy when we mourn anyway? Isn’t that sort of the definition of mourning? Being sad (unhappy) due to a great loss? Who might have lost something in this text? Who might the mourners be here? While Jesus sees and addresses the gathered crowd, there is a sense that some of his words are directed most directly to his disciples, who have just recently left their family and answered the call of Jesus. But Jesus’ words do speak to anyone who suffers for the sake of Jesus. His words are a call to live in a Here/Not Yet tension.

For those who are called and answer the call of Jesus, following after him, we trust in the hope of God’s reign, that we will see it. As such, we might be forced to mourn here and now as choosing what God desires might put us at odds with what the world desires. We suffer loss. But as we continue to exist within the Church, we continue to point to Jesus and the Kingdom of heaven, God’s reign, as our present and future hope.

The idea of comfort here is not just the idea of consoling words spoken to ease grief, but consolation which strengthens us to persevere and continue being salt of the earth and light to the world.

Being merciful, pure in heart, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, making peace are not at all ways that we earn God’s favor, but they are the practices that shape and form us to be people of the Kingdom, subjects who are happy under God’s rule. We are already granted citizenship now in that Kingdom, and we learn through our discipleship what the Kingdom will look like when it arrives in its fullness.

Grace and Peace.
Brian

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to note that the Hebrew prayer of mourning, the Kaddish, is a prayer of comfort. Death is not mentioned; rather, the Kaddish is a poem of praise. Among the sentiments expressed are the following: "Exalted and honored be the name of the Holy One"; "May there be abundant peace from heaven"; and "May he who establisheth peace in the heavens, grant peace unto us." Nice, eh? Certainly, anyone reciting this prayer is bound to be comforted.

Signed,
The Groupie

Brian said...

Groupie...

In the midst of my vast amount of reading ;) on the Beatitudes, one commentator whom I cannot recall at the moment mentioned that the Beatitudes are ultimately Jewish in origin and force the church to deal with its Jewsih roots. I have to say that while I was not ultimately convinced by his argument, I do think your point is a good one. To pray that God alone is the one who reigns over the cosmos is indeed comforting... at least it should be.

Peace,
Brian