A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for November, 2015

When the saints go marching in

What’s so significant about Mt. Everest?  Well, it is  generally considered the tallest mountain in the world. I suspect that there are many who would want to climb it,  possibly because many have a fascination about heights that make them want to “conquer.”

From a biblical standpoint, the “mountain” has a significance that has to do more with meaning that height.  The mountain was considered the symbolic meeting place between heaven and earth.  In other words, when a mountain is mentioned as context, something important will take place there.

For example:  Mt. Sinai–Moses and the covenant that established Israel as God’s people.  The Mount of Transfiguration where the divinity of Jesus was manifested to several of his disciples.  And, of course, there was Mount Calvary.  Thus, the “mountain” implies that something crucial concerning divinity and humanity will take place.

In the Gospel for the feast of All Saints  (Matt 5:1-12), this year also the thirty first Sunday in Ordinary Time, the section begins with Jesus going up the mountain.  So we suspect that something important will take place.  The subsequent Sermon on the Mount presents Jesus’ ethical teaching as the framework for his behavioral message.

Basically, there are eight Beatitudes (=”Blessed are the…”) which encompass feelings and actions.  The first Beatitude deals with the “poor in spirit.”  This has to do with the feeling of “humility” which sees truth for what it is.

The second Beatitude has to do with those who “mourn.”  Mourning, in this case, has to do with being sorry for sins, ours and those of others.  It also means feeling sorry for the sense of loss.  Loss of goodness or the loss of something dear.

The third Beatitude is often translated as “Blessed are the meek.”  A better translation would be “Blessed are the gentle.”  An active gentleness which does not permit violence to others.

The fourth Beatitude speaks of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, that which deals with justice.  Hunger and thirst bespeak a severe longing for bodily nourishment.  Such a longing should exist for doing justice as well.

The fifth Beatitude deals with mercy.  It  seems that being merciful is the same as having compassion.  Interesting that the word “compassion” comes from the Latin “to suffer with.”  Once one experiences a similar suffering (in one way or another) it is much easier to be merciful.

The sixth Beatitude refers to the pure of heart.  It means an undivided attention to God which is motivation not clouded by sin.  The seventh Beatitude attributes being a peacemaker to a personal relationship which may even result in “loving” one’s enemies.  The Hebrew word SHALOM (peace) signifies not the absence of struggle but the presence of a good relationship.The eighth Beatitude speaks of persecution for the sake of righteousness.  Righteousness here refers to professing and doing the Lord’s work.

What significance can these Beatitudes have for us?  I would like to suggest two possiblities.  First, since the Beatitudes deal with inner and outer activity, that would mean that the totality of the person is involved in doing the Lord’s work.  Motivation (inner) should precede action (outer).

Second, the examples of Jesus could easily demonstrate the Beatitudes.  Here are a few illustrations.  The Beatitude “poor in spirit” strongly suggests humility.  Jesus’ behavior was ample demonstration of that.  Those who mourn (feeling sorry for sins) is exemplified when Jesus expressed sorrow for Jerusalem’s sins (Matt. 23:37-39).  Concerning the meek, we remember the gentleness of Jesus in the case of the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8:2-11).

Regarding mercy, we have the example of Jesus being compassionate in the case of his disciples.  They were hungry. Passing through a grainfield they ate–and it was the Sabbath.  Pharisees objected because it was breaking the law.  Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.” (Mk. 2:23-28)  Jesus put things in perspective.

It seems to me that the ultimate lesson could be taken from the first reading from the book of Revelation (7:2-14) .  The elect are chosen and are able to march into the heavenly kingdom.  We also by keeping the Beatitudes (as well as the Commandments) as ethical guides, are able to join the elect as the “saints go marching in.”


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