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

Posts tagged ‘The Beatitudes’

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Should we take warnings seriously?

When you stop to think about it, we are warned about many things.  Medicine prescriptions tell us the amount to take or problems will follow.  How many times have we seen “No Trespassing” signs?  Or when doing grocery shopping the Nutrition Facts label tells us what good and bad products about the product.

Part of Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:1-12) comes across as a warning sign for the good things people should do.  This section we know as the Beatitudes.  It is interesting to note that this particular section begins with Jesus going up a mountain. (Matthew 5:1)  The “mountain” has often been used in the Bible to indicate that something significant was about to take place.  For example, MOUNT Sinai from where Moses delivered the Law to the Israelites, including the ten commandments, was the significant place where God and the Israelites established a mutual covenant.

So we know that Jesus had something important to say.  Namely, while observing the Law there is a shift in perspective from the way things were done to what is now being presented.  Jesus centers on the notion of “attitude” which brings in heart, feelings, and conscience.  A key word in this sermon on the mount is “Blessed,” which in the Greek means “Happy.”  I t seems that the emotional motivation for the action is important for doing what has to be done.  Those pointed out are the following:

POOR IN SPIRIT.  Those who feel unable to help themselves and feel the necessity of God’s help.  In fact, these are the humble.

THOSE WHO MOURN.  Sorrow for our own sins as well as the sins of others.

THE MEEK.  “Gentleness”( not “weakness”)  in not allowing violence or injustice to be done to anyone.

THOSE WHO SEEK RIGHTEOUSNESS.  Those who have  the attitude of maintaining the covenant relationship with God.

THOSE WHO ARE MERCIFUL.  Jesus often displayed mercy in his dealings with others.  He thought more of the individual person than of the perceived absoluteness of the Law.  At least one examples come to mind.  When Jesus’ disciples went through some grain fields on the Sabbath, they stopped to eat.  This raised the ire of some Pharisees who said the laws of the Sabbath forbid that.  Jesus’ response was that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  (Mark 2:23-28)  There is also the case of the woman caught in adultery.  (John 8:2-11)  Perspective!!  Attitude!!

PURE IN HEART.  Means an undivided obedience to God.  The “heart” is the center of human need, thinking, and feeling.

PEACEMAKERS.  Means something “active.”  Quite likely, it means that we are to love our enemies.  (Matthew 5:44-48)

THOSE PERSECUTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS.  “Righteousness” is characterized by Christian practice and confessing Jesus.

What is Jesus asking of us?  The Beatitudes tell us to be humble; to have sorrow for our sins; to be gentle in not allowing injustice to be done;  to maintain a true relationship with God; to be merciful; to have obedience to God; to love my enemies; and to continue to proclaim Jesus to others.

The above won’t be easy, but it will present a major challenge throughout our lives.  Persecution is the warning presented, but the promise of Jesus is our fundamental hope.  (Matthew 5:11-12)

 

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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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