When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 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 receive mercy. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. -Matthew 5:1-12
About This Week's Meditation Prompts
The Beatitudes entered my conscious world at around the age of ten. The next fifty plus years of Beatitude awareness only increased the shock of these sayings of Jesus. While I longed for these ideals in the world, I eventually understood their call for revolution within my own soul as well. Now I'm shocked indeed.
In Luke's Gospel, Jesus says, "the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20b-21) The kingdom seems to unfold stealthily.I suppose part of my shock reflects my realization that I have been tasting heaven all along, only increasing my hunger and thirst.
This week's prompts invite you to contemplate the here and now of the Beatitudes (meditation one) and the very intimate nature of the kingdom unfolding within (meditation two). After a short rhapsody on righteousness, creativity, and liberty implied by the Sermon on the Mount (meditation three), the Last Word acknowledges the mature desire to share blessedness. Blessings to you, -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) here and now
...That is to say that the Beatitudes are not promises of future happiness; they are congratulations on present bliss. They are not statements and prophecies of what is one day going to happen to the Christian in some other world; they are affirmations of the bliss into which the Christian can enter even here and now. This is not to say that this bliss will not reach its perfection and its completion, when some day the Christian enters into the nearer presence of his Lord; but it is to say that even here and now the foretaste and the experience of that bliss is meant to be part of the Christian life.
-William Barkclay 1907-1978 The Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer for Everyman
Do not suppose that by heaven here is meant the upper regions of the sky of this visible world, for your reward is not to be placed in things that are seen, but by “in heaven” understand the spiritual firmament, where everlasting righteousness dwells. Those then whose joy is in things spiritual will even here have some foretaste of that reward; but it will be made perfect in every part when this mortal shall have put on immortality.
-Augustine Sermon on the Mount i,5
What if the beatitudes aren’t about a list of conditions we should try and meet to be blessed. What if these are not virtues we should aspire to but what if Jesus saying blessed are the meek is not instructive– what if it’s performative? …meaning the pronouncement of blessing is actually what confers the blessing itself. Maybe the sermon on the mount is all about Jesus’ seemingly lavish blessing of the world around him especially that which society doesn’t seem to have much time for, people in pain, people who work for peace instead of profit, people who exercise mercy instead of vengeance. So maybe Jesus is actually just blessing people, especially the people who never seem to receive blessings otherwise. I mean, come on, doesn’t that just sound like something Jesus would do? Extravagantly throwing around blessings as though they grew on trees?
- Nadia Bolz-Weber Some Modern Beatitudes—A Sermon for All Saints Sunday, November 6, 2014, from her blog Sarcastic Lutheran.
B, Spanish Miniaturist, 1480, Breviarium
In the time it took Lara, clutching her pennies in her fist, to make her way to the door past the worshipers without disturbing them, buy two candles for herself and Olia, and turn back, Prov Afanasievich had rattled off nine of the beatitudes at a pace suggesting that they were well enough known without him. Blessed are the poor in spirit.... Blessed are they that mourn.... Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.... Lara started and stood still. This was about her. He was saying: Happy are the downtrodden. They have something to tell about themselves. They have everything before them. That was what He thought. That was Christ's judgment.
-Boris Pasternak 1890-1960 Doctor Zhivago
The greatness of our human nature lies in its being a capacity to receive God, a capacity not of any active power of our own but purely one of receptivity to grace which is the accomplishment and perfection of our being, an interior transformation operative in the substance of the soul. The most profound depths of our spiritual nature, there acting upon, supernaturalizng and sanctifying us from within.
-Bede Frost 1877-? Founded Upon a Rock
B, Psalter of St. Margaret of the House Arpad, 1259
Illuminated B, English Miniaturist, c.1200, Comments on the Psalms
Meditation Two (insight) the lived faith
“...Rather, these sayings of Jesus delineate the lived faith. They say: you are forgiven; you are the child of God; you belong to his kingdom. The sun of righteousness has risen over your life. You no longer belong to yourself; rather, you belong to the city of God, the light of which shines in the darkness. Now you may also experience it: out of the thankfulness of a redeemed child of God a new life is growing. That is the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount.
-Joachim Jeremias The Sermon on the Mount trans. Norman Perrin
B, Gradual, 14th century, Michael and Dragon
Meditation Three righteousness (integration)
But not so with this inward, vital, joyous righteousness rooted in true love of God and man. They who crave it "shall be filled," or better, "shall find it to be satisfying." One might eat and eat of the superficial, cotton candy righteousness vended by the professional religious hucksters and never have his hunger assuaged. Or he might drink and drink of their holy water and never have his thirst quenched. But the kingdom righteousness is meat indeed and drink indeed - rich, nourishing, satisfying. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for it, for they shall find that it meets their deepest needs.
-Clarence Jordon 1912-1969 The Sermon on the Mount
Imagination postulates creativity, spontaneity, and liberty. It is precisely this that Christ demands when he proposes an ideal like the Sermon on the Mount.
- Leonardo Boff b.1938 Jesus Christ Liberator: Jesus, a Person of Extraordinary Good Sense, Creative Imagination, and Originality.
The Last Word
Claiming your own blessedness always leads to a deep desire to bless others.
-Henri Nouwen 1932-1996
One of the most interesting sermons I ever heard was at a monastic profession. The preacher described the journey of the man being received as a monk in terms of the Beatitudes. Once the man experienced humility through some kind of trauma or setback, discovering his need of God, his journey was set in motion. (Blessed are the pure in heart). Then, because of his own misfortune, the struggles of other people touched him. He found he cared for people and their suffering in the world (Blessed are those that mourn). His arrogance began to slip away (Blessed are the meek), and at the same time he longed for holiness and justice for the oppressed and disenfranchised (Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness). He began thinking of others more than himself (Blessed are the merciful) and gave himself to others more freely. As he continued dropping his pretensions, he uncovered his authentic self layer by layer, even surprising himself (Blessed are the pure in heart). And living into the Christian imperative, he took on activism and peace-making, attracting the inevitable condemnation from the world. (Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake). Unconsciously, he embodied the Beatitudes through his conversion and growing in grace through the stages of his adult life.
The Beatitudes as a kind of ladder of perfection is not a new idea. Dante describes the angels singing a particular Beatitude at each cornice of the Mount of Purgatory as souls, released from their need of purification, ascend to heaven. Ambrose preaches the stages of perfection as one Beatitude resting upon the other. Augustine and Hugh of St. Victor play with pairing the Beatitudes with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, virtues and vices.
But I like what Catherine of Sienna says. All the way to heaven is heaven, because you said, “I am the way.” As I strive to live into the Christ life, I taste heaven at each increment of grace, and, I hope and pray, I inadvertently let loose a little of paradise into the world, even if I’m not conscious of either receiving or giving.