Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Beatitudes, pt.1

I seem to like doing series. Over the next three weeks (including this one) we're going to look at Jesus' teachings known as the Beatitudes, taking three of them at a time.

Matthew 5:1-12
Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down His disciples came to Him. And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when men 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 so men persecuted the prophets who were before you."

When Jesus taught, He often used seemingly contradictory ideas to make His point about spiritual realities. When we look at the way God has worked in history, and especially at Jesus Himself, this shouldn't really surprise us--and yet, it still does! Think about it, though. What's more contradictory than God omnipotent coming to earth as a baby? Nothing I can think of, except possibly that this same God chose to win the greatest victory and save us from our sins by dying the most humiliating, painful, and seemingly defeated death, denied and betrayed by His friends!

Is it really any surprise then, that Jesus' view of how our lives should be is often the exact opposite of what we would expect? Nowhere is this Gospel Paradox more clearly seen than in the Beatitudes, with which Jesus began His famous Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It means that we realise that all we have in this world or the next is Jesus Himself. It means that our trust isn't in things, riches, or connections, but in the eternal richness that comes only from a relationship with God!

A few years back, when I was in Bible College, I went on a trip to Downtown Toronto, to work with the people living on the streets. It was a very immersive experience (one I hope to have St. Andrew's Youth participate in!) and I learned a lot. One of the most surprising things I learned was about the faith of the people who live on the streets. In my mind, I would anticipate that someone so down and out would be cursing God for letting this happen to them. But instead, I found strong faith and hope in God--indeed, for them, God was all they had left!

This is what it means to be poor in spirit. The rich person too often says, "I have everything I need. I don't need God!" Too often, we can take that attitude. The poor, on the other hand, realise that they have to depend solely on God for their very next meal--indeed, their very next breath! Being poor in spirit doesn't necessarily mean we're poor in wallet--but it does mean that we live our lives knowing that we, too, rely fully on Jesus for our next breath, and that He alone brings us fulfilment, peace and happiness--or, in a word, makes us "blessed."

This attitude is what brings us close to God. This attitude is why Jesus proclaims that those with this attitude have the Kingdom of Heaven!

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
How are those grieving, "blessed"? Simply because they are genuine. Too often we have a mentality that we need to be all spic and span for God--that our lives should be all put together. We should be happy, carefree--or else we don't have faith...right? Wrong!

When I was 18, in high school, a close friend of mine, David Ellis, died in a factory accident. At the time, his family, and many of his friends and the people of our faith tradition believed that it was wrong to mourn his death, and so the funeral was a "celebration" of his life, with upbeat praise songs and a "joyful" attitude. They wanted to express their hope that he was with Jesus--but because Dave was such a popular guy around school, there were many people at the funeral who had no such hope. Many complained to me that they felt ripped off, that they weren't allowed to say goodbye or properly grieve. Rather than drawing these people closer to God by our warmth, consolation, and compassion, we alienated them instead.

God doesn't desire Lego men, with their painted-on smiles. He wants real people who will really relate to Him. He wants people who will be unashamed to pour out their pain into His lap! This is genuine intimacy; this is real love! This is why St. Peter wrote, "Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares about you" (1 Peter 5:7). Faith is vulnerable. It trusts that God is there and that He cares about you. Jesus assures us that this is true, by promising that those who mourn will be comforted: Comforted by none other than God Himself!

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
To the more business-minded persons out there, this beatitude really makes no sense! Meek? Inherit the earth?! No no! You can only make it big in this world by climbing the corporate ladder--by using others as the rungs! But Jesus is challenging us to be meek, gentle, and humble.

Meekness in our world is often associated with weakness. An unwillingness to make an issue out of standing up for ourselves is seen as an inability to. But Jesus is trying to drive home the point that when we were freed from slavery to sin, He made us instead slaves to righteousness. A slave doesn't have rights. In a similar way, Jesus has made us citizens of Heaven, and not of earth. Again, this really puts a limit on our rights in the here and now. Jesus challenges us to live accordingly, and "turn the other cheek" (and no, that doesn't mean moon them!). We have the power to stand up for ourselves--in fact, in Christ, we can do everything! But, like Christ, we must have an attitude of gentle humility in everything that we do.

As a reward, we, who have forsaken our rights and status in this earth to become citizens of Heaven, will gain the earth as our inheritance as well!

Coming up in the summer will be various opportunities to demonstrate our Poverty of Spirit through acts of service. Through the Knights of Columbus, we have the opportunity to serve those in need in Hamilton, with the Brothers of the Good Shepherd. The 1st Saturday of each month, we can go down and serve in the food lines! Coming up for the Civic Holiday, there will be another big fundraising dealy to raise money for the Brothers! Let's take advantage of these opportunities to put feet to our faith, and make a difference in this world!

God bless!

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