Sister Doreen’s Reflections
The beatitudes really introduce and set the tone for Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Richard Rohr calls the beatitudes Jesus’ inaugural address, defining a new covenant with all humankind, a manifesto revealing the true, loving nature of the Kingdom of God.
The beatitudes are found in Matthew 5:3-12 and paralleled in Luke 6:20-23. They are proverb-like sayings that are packed with meaning and so worthy of reflection. Most scholars agree that they give us a picture of the true disciple of God, nine portraits of the good life. Over the next few weeks I would like to share some reflections on each of the beatitudes with you.
First, today, some general comments about the Beatitudes:
Barbara Taylor in her book “Gospel Medicine” writes: “I think Jesus should have asked the crowd to stand on their heads when he taught them the beatitudes, because that was what he was doing. He was turning the known world upside down, so that those who had been fighting for breath at the bottom of the human heap suddenly found themselves closest to heaven, while those who thought they were on top of things found themselves flat on their heels looking up.” She went on to say “No one was going to vote for any of those definitions of the Good Life, but Jesus did not ask for anyone’s approval. Jesus just defined the Good Life in nine short sentences and held them out for everyone to see. You can do what you want with the beatitudes, people always have. Some have ignored them, some have admired them and walked away, some have used them as a yardstick to measure their own blessedness, and some have used them to declare revolution.”
So perhaps just a few general comments and thoughts about the Beatitudes and the words that Jesus used.
Blessed, what does Jesus intend by using this paradoxical word? In trying to understand the focus of the beatitudes I think that it is important to consider the meaning and the intent of this first word which we translate ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’.
- In Greek the first word is MAKAROI – which helps us understand people enjoying a deep inner joy, a lasting spiritual experience, like the inner joy that continues to grow deeper as life experience grows. It is an experience of life at its best and a call to do something about it! For example, perhaps a more real translation would be: get up, go ahead, and do something. Move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice. For you shall be satisfied. Get up, go ahead, and move. Take action, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.
As I said, most of us don’t know what to do with the beatitudes, but they sound like a beautiful and familiar poem, or a list that makes us feel guilty because we are not good enough, meek enough. Upon pondering the beatitudes, I really think that Jesus is saying: “If you feel you are living in a world where you don’t fit in, start creating a new, more loving world. God and the kingdom of heaven are doing it with you. Act like you belong to God’s kingdom. Do something beautiful with God.”
Jesus’ manifesto calls us to revise our understanding, to see the beatitudes as a call to action, a call to active response. We are invited to do something in our communities to make a difference, rather than to maintain a passive acceptance of difficulties. We are called to join Jesus in the ‘good news’ of the gospel, which is, that “I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance”. It is important that we ponder the beatitudes in the light of that statement – I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance.
As we reflect on the beatitudes, we begin to see that Jesus is calling us to ‘wake up’ to the challenge of being his followers, and at the same time Jesus is assuring us of God’s loving support “I am with you always …” in our efforts. We are being called to a metanoia.
In reading De Chardin’s reflections upon the beatitudes I have come to see that we are to realize that sometimes a gift or a favour we receive implies a response in action. However, we don’t usually think of poverty, grief, rejection, or persecution as gifts or favours. These are human situations where people typically feel punished, helpless, and powerless to make a difference. Jesus is asking such people to turn their self-perceptions around and to see their apparently diminished state as a position from which to make a positive difference. It is important for us to understand that the language of the beatitudes is not transactional language (do this and you will receive that). The language of the beatitudes, is I believe, descriptive language (this is what people are now, and this is what the future holds for them). The language of the beatitudes is the language of the gospel, the language of hope and promise that the way things are now is not the way that it needs to be always.
I believe that Jesus’ sermon on the mount, starting with the beatitudes is setting out a clear message – we are to declare revolution! They are an inspiration to every human person to play his or her part in the transformation of the world, no matter what their situation. We are called to create a world filled with loving union, as part of God’s team. These beatitudes become, in nine short sentences, nine facets or portraits of discipleship and of life in communion with God.
You will find them in both Matthew 5:3-12 and Luke 6:20-23. Try seeing them as an icon in our daily struggle to enter more and more deeply into the love of God and freedom from everything that impedes that love. An icon much like a ladder with many rungs stretching from the desert toward the welcoming arms of God.
The Beatitudes in Scripture: (Using the NIV translation)
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 be shown mercy
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kind of evil against you because of me,
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.