Tuesday, January 29, 2019
Meeting the Beatitudes Again...Anew
One of the undercurrents...just beneath the surface of nine counter-cultural statements of Jesus in the beatitudes...is the truth that he isn't really saying anything new. He is actually riffing and remixing wisdom that the rabbis of the Jewish faith had taught for centuries. Over the next few posts, we will explore this truth...but let's start with an overview of all nine.
It starts with beloved are the poor in spirit...poor here is ptochoi, which literally means, "the very empty ones, those who are crouching." While most of us would want to avoid poverty at all costs, many of the beloved of God in the Hebrew Scriptures went through severe time of want/need. Think of Joseph in prison in Genesis...or Ruth and Naomi trying to glean just a bit of wheat from the field... or the widow who Elijah helps to stretch the last bit of meal in the jar. I think Jesus saw something in those stories that connected one to another.
The second is beloved are those who grieve. Richard Rohr writes that tears are therapeutic and healing...crying shed stress hormones and stimulates endorphins...it is really healthy to cry. I think Jesus here might be thinking about Rachel weeping for her children (Genesis 35:19), or maybe Jesus was thinking of this from Psalm 6, I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed has been floating forty days and nights. On the flood of my tears. My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears. The sockets of my eyes are black holes; nearly blind, I squint and grope. Or countless other psalms that sing out of how the author is crying out to God. Grief is woven into the stories and psalms of Scripture.
The third beatitude builds on the first two, beloved are the gentle (or meek...or who have strength under control). This is actually a quote from Psalm 37:11, "The humble shall have the land for their own." I think this one also reminds us that in moments of pain it will either break our hearts open or make us bitter.
The fourth beatitude talks about beloved are the righteous. This isn't about being a do-gooder or about being self-righteousness, there is something deeper. In fact, what might have been stirring in Jesus is the story of Job who in the very first verse of the very first chapter of that book Job is described as, "blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil." And then, the shoe drops in Job's life...and another...and another. Righteousness doesn't insulate us from the grief or moments of feeling poor in spirit...in fact...at times it might even make us more vulnerable and open to experiencing the first three.
The fifth beatitude is about beloved are the merciful. Here we might listen to Hosea "For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice". To be merciful in scripture is to embody Hesed, or loving kindness which Ruth shows to her mother-in-law Naomi and God shows to God's people time and time and time again.
The sixth beatitude is beloved are the pure in heart. Here Jesus might be quoting from Psalm 24, "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully." Perhaps it isn't only about our outward appearance, what we wear to church that matters, but the state of our hearts/souls/interior lives that matter to God too.
The seventh is beloved are the peace makers. This one could be a reference to Isaiah 11, the peaceable kingdom with a child leading the way to a new creation or perhaps Jesus had in mind the way the prophet Hosea sought to live a life of peacefulness.
The eight is that beloved are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake...which could be just about every prophet in the Hebrew Bible!!
Finally, the ninth sings about about sensing belovedness and rejoicing even in times of being revived. I think here about so many psalms...but maybe Psalm 34, "I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth."
There are so many other places in Scripture that Jesus could be echoing and amplifying, but this is one way to realize that Jesus wasn't just singing and saying something new...but was actually helping to sing God's familiar song in a new way.