Saturday, February 5, 2011

Beatitudes -- what's it all about?

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 will be called sons 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 kinds 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. (NIV)

Jesus was speaking to the disciples and the multitudes that had gathered, This wasn't the temple crowd, these were everyday people seeking to receive some knowledge. I am wondering what God had in mind.

Jesus spoke to people in their context, congruent with their history, using common metaphors/similes/euphemisms etc. to insure that his meaning was clear. What did they hear when he spoke? What message did they receive? I've been taught that blessed would have been interpreted honored. This was a society based on doing the honorable thing. I wonder how that simple change would have transformed the message. Those that are laid low by this world will be honored by God. We who truly are in this world but not of this world will surely connect with God.

I also looked to the sermons of John Wesley for insight. Pastor Wesley preached extensively on this text. He meticulously commented on each phrase. These sermons showed how the working class of England could inherit the kingdom. This was a very different society than the one that Jesus sat with on the mountainside. Did the message still ring true? In a world where class, connection and money were paramount gods of the day and the church merely a vehicle for their power plays did Jesus' words still convey context, history and the language of the day? Wesley explained that the poor in spirit were those who were conscious of their soul's plight and sought to do something about it. I wonder what the people heard when these words were spoken.

There are those who have translated Jesus' word Blessed into Happy, as in happy are those who mourn. What????!!!!!! This just seems incongruous. These words seem out of context, out of history, and just a silly use of language to appease the masses. Instead of the self awareness this sounds like a placating, opiating of the masses. But maybe God is speaking through this incongruity. It is this relationship, of incongruity that God is speaking of. Those mourning the loss of innocence from the garden of Eden will be comforted by a new connection to God through Jesus. Maybe it is this juxtaposition of opposites that God speaks to a new generation.

And what do the beatitudes have to say to us today: in our context, through our history, in our language using the metaphors/similes/euphemisms/figures of speech that this information age possesses? What does it mean to be persecuted for righteousness today? Who are the meek? What do these words call us to today in our broken world? What is it all about? Why does it keep changing? What do you hear?

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