Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Beatitudes, pt.2

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."

Last week we looked at the first three of these beatitudes. In my mind, they seem like they could be divided up into categories. The first three are our attitude: an attitude of humility--being poor in spirit; an attitude of sincerity--being true in our emotions; and an attitude of meeknessness--being gentle and kind to others before yourself.

This week, the three beatitudes we're going to look at could be considered our virtues. They deal more specifically with our relationship and obedience to God. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness; showing mercy; and being pure. Last week we noted that Jesus' statements are often paradoxical. This week, these three seem a lot more straightforward. So let's look at them.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
What does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness? Righteousness is that quality of life, where what we do is what God wants us to do, or as the cliché goes, "What would Jesus do?" To be righteous is to live a life as close to the Heart of Jesus as we can. While it's incredibly hard to do, we can know that it is not us alone who do it, but Christ Himself, living within us, helps us to live righteously.

But it is not an automatic thing. We have to do our part, co-operating with the Grace that God gives us. We must also have a desire for His righteousness. Jesus compares this desire to a hunger or a thirst. I remember working a few summers on a nursery. (That's a tree farm, for those of you who are suddenly thinking I'd be a good baby-sitter!) During those summers there were days of blistering heat, and working out in the sun for 10 to 12 hours really made me appreciate the goodness of pure, cold water! There was one day I came home rather sick due to a lack of water. This is the kind of hunger, the kind of thirst, that Jesus is referring to here. He wants us to realise that a righteous life is something we truly cannot live without!

Psalm 42 begins by saying, "As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after You, O God." Just like the deer, who has been running through the woods all day, has panted to drink at a stream of water, that is the desire that we need to have to see God's face! Jesus calls us blessed when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, saying that those who do shall be satisfied. Later on in His same sermon, the great "Sermon on the Mount," Jesus has this to say: "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well" (Matthew 6:33). When we seek God's Kingdom and righteousness in our own lives, not only will He satisfy us with righteousness, but He will look after our other needs as well. As Father Watters loves to say, "I have everything I need, and even a few things that I want, as well!"

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Jesus is teaching us here not merely of the value of forgiveness, but the actual necessity. If we want to gain forgiveness, if we want to gain God's mercy, we need to be willing to show that mercy to others. When we pray the Our Father, we say, "And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." When Jesus taught His disciples that prayer, immediately afterward, He said, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15).

Unforgiveness and bitterness have harmful physical effects, and doctors have begun to realise and analyse this fact more and more. But bitterness also has grave spiritual results. It can actually cut us off of the life of Grace that God gives to us. In the very same chapter as the Beatitudes (Matthew chapter 5 if you weren't paying attention!) Jesus has this to say, "So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (verses 23-24).

This is why, at Mass, just before we offer our gifts on the altar, when we prepare to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we share with each other the sign of peace. This is more than a meaningless gesture oddly juxtaposed into the Eucharistic Liturgy, but a fulfilment of Jesus' instruction to make things right with those who have wronged us. If there is unforgiveness in your life, take that opportunity to make it right, by genuinely extending your hand in peace. Or, if they are not at Mass, tell God your desire to forgive, and after Mass, actively try to reconcile with your brother or sister or friend. Allow your merciful spirit to open up the door to the mercy of God to come and fill your heart!

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
I'd be tempted to say "Well, that's a given!" if it weren't so incredibly important! Do you want to see God? Do you really want to know Him, to be close to Him? Jesus tells us that Purity is the key! Like righteousness, this is again a gift from Jesus Himself--who, washing away our sins has made us whiter than snow. But, unless we co-operate with that grace, with that cleansing, we will quickly become soiled again!

Purity. Saying the word conjures up notions of chastity, abstinence, "sexual purity". While this is a crucial and important aspect of purity, ultimately purity is not equal to virginity. Jesus isn't just calling us to a purity of behaviour, or a purity of action. He is calling us to a purity of heart! It goes deeper than our external deeds, or "how far is too far?" It calls us to a sincerity of love and humility. True purity wouldn't even ask the question. It values other people as brothers and sisters, to be protected and cherished. It goes right to the motives behind our actions. Am I hanging out with "these people" because I'll be popular, or because they need a friend? Am I going to church because my parents make me, or because I want to be with Jesus? Purity is the opposite of hypocricy. We all hate hypocrites--except the one we see in the mirror! Being pure in heart is allowing Jesus to go through us, letting Him expose those places in our lives that we haven't yet given to Him, and choosing to surrender ourselves completely to His love!

It is the ultimate dying to self--and the One who was Crucified for you doesn't deserve or expect any less!

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