November 1, 2020
Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount with the Eight Beatitudes, surely one of the top five most memorable and beautifully written passages in Scripture . . . rivaling, at least for me,
Matthew wants us to know that Jesus was a Master Teacher. With his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his disciple (and us) all we really need to know to live a life of faith, mercy, love, and justice. But he anchors all his teaching in the lived experience of those around him. And he begins his teaching, after observing the crowds, really seeing them, really understanding them, and calling them blessed. That’s his starting point . . . the lived reality of the people.
So what prompted Jesus, on that day, to name those groups to receive his blessing? What had he observed? What was he thinking and feeling? What was going on that prompted him to call out . . .
Those who mourn
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
The clean of heart
Those who are persecuted
Just who was he thinking of specifically, as he named each group? I don’t know, because I wasn’t there in that place in that time. But I am here in this place and in this time. And so I try to imagine just who would Jesus be thinking of today. What groups would he name?
Blessed are the victims of relentless racial injustice . . . for they will persevere.
Blessed are those who tell the truth . . . for they will see the Truth.
Blessed are the isolated and alone . . . for they will survive, and receive the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
Blessed are those who vote . . . for they will always have a voice.
I think Jesus chose these groups because he was preoccupied and bothered by them in some way. He could see that they were the ones right on the line, on the edge, caught in the middle between good and evil, right and wrong, the haves and have nots, the honest and dishonest. These are the ones who, through no choice of their own find themselves in a really bad place and have to dig deep to find strength and courage to simply carry on. Or, these are the ones who have a bit of power and influence and must choose to wield it well, or poorly.
In addition to the words themselves, the beauty of the beatitudes is the simple, poetic formula: Blessed are . . . for they will . . .
You know, there is nothing is Scripture, or Church teaching, that says there can only be eight beatitudes. In fact, I just added four more.
I’d like you to write one or two beatitudes. Start with this question: Who are the persons or groups that have you preoccupied today? And that in one way or another you can identify with? For example, I chose victims of racial injustice (whom I seek to understand better), truth tellers (whom I wish to emulate), those stuck at home because of the pandemic (whom I admire greatly), and those who vote (with whom I feel connected).
Pick a group, or a person who represents a group, and drop them into the front end of the formula:
Blessed are [your group], for they . . .
Now, imagine that they receive just exactly what they need from God in this very moment. And plug that into the back end of the formula:
Blessed are [your group], for they [receive God’s gift today].
Take a couple of minutes and try it. Type your beatitude into the chat box for us all to see. For those of you on the phone, I’ll ask if you’d like to share your beatitude in a couple of minutes.
Beatitudes from the Chat Box
Blessed are our mothers, for they will see the fruits of love
Blessed are the young for they work for justice,
Blessed are those that stand up in defense of the unborn in the face of opposition, for they will be embraced by God.
Blessed are our spiritual leaders for they will guide us to the light.
Blessed are those with no voice for they will be heard.
Blessed are the mothers and fathers who struggle to work, raise families and try to keep their children learning and happy at home during the pandemic, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the essential workers for they will receive God's care.
Blessed are those suffering from anxiety for they shall receive the calm of the Holy Spirit.
Blessed are the lonely for they will be embraced with the warmth of close community.
I mentioned the Ten Commandments as one of the top six passages in the Bible. Let me conclude by saying that I learned years ago that the whole of our teaching on morality and justice can be anchored in the combination of the Ten Commandments and the Eight Beatitudes. That these two passages should always go together. Think of it this way: the actions we take are influenced and guided by both head and heart. The Ten Commandments inform our head and tell us what to do and what not to do, while the Eight Beatitudes form our heart to infuse our actions with authentic intention.
Blessed are those who align their head, heart, and hands with God’s work in the world . . . for they shall lead us to the Promised Land!