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The Beatitudes, part 3: Mourners

Read Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:21b

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalms 34:18 NLT)

black-and-blue-lament-e1468181738718Jesus continued his bestowal of blessings, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The words rang out and filled the ears and souls of the multitude of people gathered around Jesus that day. There was much to mourn in their day and age, there had been much to be grieved over. Under the weight of such suffering, there wasn’t a single soul among Jesus’ followers who hadn’t been in some state of mourning or another.

Whether rich or poor, whether powerful or weak, whether a person of status or a peasant, all were in a state of grief over the travesty of being subjegated to the Roman Empire. Sure, there were some who had much to gain from Rome’s presence. The High Priest, Caiaphas, and his whole priestly family benefited from Rome. According to Flavius Josephus, Annas (the same Annas who took part in Jesus’ mock trial) was appointed High Priest in 6 CE by the Roman Governor Quirinius as the first High Priest of the new Roman Province of Iudaea (aka Judea). He served in that role until he was deposed by the Roman Governor Gratus in 15 CE and was replaced by his son, Eleazar, in 16 CE. In 17 CE, Gratus deposed Eleazar and appointed Annas’ son-in-law, Joseph son of Caiaphas (aka Caiaphas) as the high priest.

There were others who also had much to gain. Herod, an Idumaean Jew, and his family gained power under Rome, as did those who supported Herod’s agenda of Hellenizing Judea (aka the Herodians). Yet, even they were not without their mourning for, under the Roman boot, no one was truly free to do as they pleased, not even Herod. Following Herod’s death, Caesar Augustus refused to give any of his children the title of king, but appointed three of his sons as governors. Herod’s son Archelaus, though willed by his father to be king, was eventually deposed by Augustus and the regions he ruled (Samaria, Judah, and Idumaea) were consolodated into a new Roman province of Iudaea (aka Judea) and placed directly under Roman Rule. Antipas and Phillip both kept governorship of their regions, but the tension between them and Rome was thick.

So, yes, many had much to mourn over in the days and years Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth, and no doubt, everyone has something to mourn about in our day and age as well; however, Jesus was not merely speaking to those who mourned in the physical sense, as it is often misunderstood. Jesus was, in actuality, speaking to those who mourn in both the physical and spiritual senses.

Without doubt, by using the phrase “those who mourn”, Jesus is referring to the poor. This can be evidenced in Luke’s literal interpretation of this famous beatitude (Luke 6:21b). With that said, I would once again caution anyone from rushing to the judgment that Matthew is “spiritualizing” Jesus’ words. First, it is more than likely that Luke was written after Matthew, not beforehand. Thus, chronologically speaking, it would be more likely that Luke “literalized” the words of Jesus found in Matthew, and even that’s just as unlikely. Second, since the mysterious Q source of Jesus’ sayings has never been found, only speculative (and not empirical) claims can be made regarding what Jesus was actually recorded as saying. Without empirical evidence, there’s no reason to believe that either Matthew or Luke are detracting from what Jesus said, but more or less expounding upon it.

Lastly and most importantly, Matthew’s text (regardless of the points above) does not exclude the literal poor, but most certainly includes them when mentioning those who mourn. Blessed are they who mourn because of the greed, the corruption, the power, and oppression of the wicked, for they will be comforted. Also included in this group of blessed people are those who mourn and lament because of how far wayward God’s people had gone as a result of greed, corruption and abuse of power. Blessed are those mourners for they, too, will be comforted when God’s Kingdom finally and fully reigns on the earth.

What’s more, as will be seen later in the beatitudes, the mourners are not merely those who are helpless and voiceless against injustice, but those who stand up against it and face the consequences of doing so. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. The question for you is, which one of these are you? Are you one of the poor and helpless who mourn? Are you one of those who mourn and lament over injustice and stand up against it, or are you one of those who our Lord (Matthew 23; Luke 6:24-26) declares a series of woes against? Challenge yourself to earnestly reflect on this, not only this week, but always.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Good God, if our civilization were to sober up for a couple of days it’d die of remorse on the third.” – Malcom Lowry
PRAYER
Lord, as I mourn the way this world is, empower me to follow you and change it. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 1: Intro

Read Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 6:20-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the one who is firstborn from among the dead so that he might occupy the first place in everything.” (Colossians 1:18 CEB)

417679427823_417679427823_SermonMountWe’ve all heard them, even those who are not “religious” or have never opened a Bible are familiar with them,  and most people hold them up as the pinnacle of Jesus’ teachings. But the question remains, how many people truly understand what Jesus is teaching in the Beatitudes? In order to shed light on them, I have decided to write a series on the beatitudes, which will precede an even larger series on Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” as a whole.

When we think of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” we often think first of “the Beatitudes”, which are a collection of blessings proclaimed on specific groupings of people. While they sound like pleasant and idealistic platitudes given by a lofty and well-intentioned teacher, we often pass them off as being “the mark of perfection” and/or wholly unattainable. In other words, we either dismiss ourselves from centering our lives on them because we are not “the Christ” and, therefore, will fall short of them, and/or we think of them to be unrealistic and/or unattainable in this broken and fallen world.

Yet, both of the above fall into a general misunderstandings of what Jesus is doing in them. The word beatitude comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of Matthew 5:1-11, where Jesus proclaims “Beati”, which means “happy,” and is from the root Latin word of “beātitūdō,” meaning happiness. Yet, the Latin does not quite capture what Jesus is doing in this set of proclamations. In Greek, the language in which the Gospel According to Matthew was written, the word Jesus uses is, “makarios” (μακάριος) meaning, supremely or divinely “blessed” and, by extension, privileged, fortunate and/or well-off. This better fits what Jesus is doing as he is proclaiming an objective reality that is a result of an act of God (being blessed), and not about a subjective feeling (being happy).

Drawing on a tradition that is found both in ancient Jewish and ancient pagan writings, Jesus uses these beatitudes to teach people the heart of God as well as the center of God’s coming Kingdom. The beatitudes are not objective truths that are a reality in this present world order; rather, they seem to go against what we humans commonly value and they seem to go against our common human experience.

Surely, the poor are not blessed. Surely the meek do not inherit the earth. Surely, the hungry are not blessed, nor are those who being persecuted for any reason. How can Jesus claim these things, which are so clearly and evidently NOT true, and still maintain credibility? How can we follow a Jesus who seems so clearly aloof and disconnected with reality?

What’s important to note here is that the beatitudes are not true in and of themselves, nor is Jesus proclaiming them to be. To read them that way is to, ultimately, miss what Jesus is doing here. He is not declaring these things to be present realities within the world order; rather, Jesus is declaring them to be realities in the divine order. In other words, by virtue of Jesus’ authority as the as the Son of God and Lord of the Church, these nine “blessings” are true and to be held as such by all who submit to Jesus’ authority.

As we prepare to study the Beatitudes, prepare yourself by reading them carefully, more than once, and by opening yourself to what Jesus is proclaiming. Ask yourself, why is Jesus proclaiming these groupings of people to be divinely blessed? Why are they the ones who are privileged, fortunate, and well-off and what does Jesus’ proclamation say about our current world order and those who, by the world’s measure, are privileged, fortunate and/or well-off? Finally, ask yourself this: do you accept the authority of Jesus as Lord and, by extension, do you embrace Jesus’ proclamation on the basis of his authority? I pray that, as we move forward, the wisdom of the Beatitudes will ever transform you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The Beatitudes are no spiritual ‘to do list’ to be attempted by eager, rule-keeping disciples. It is a spiritual ‘done’ list of the qualities God brings to bear in the people who follow Jesus.” – Ronnie McBrayer

PRAYER
Lord, prepare my heart and open it up to your wisdom and the authority of your Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Amen.

A Little Perspective

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b)

PerspectiveHave you ever had one of those days where you take two steps forward only to feel like you are still ten steps behind? Have you ever had one of those weeks where absolutely nothing seems to be going your way? Have you ever had one of those years where you feel like the stars, the planets and perhaps even God seem aligned against you? Have you ever sat and asked the question “why me?” Or, have you ever exclaimed in frustration, “I can’t stand this life!”

Whether you admit to it or not, these feelings and under-the-breath questions and exclamations are common to the human experience. Often times, it is very hard for us to see beyond the situations we are in. When caught in stressful moments, or in the midst of life’s trials, it is very hard for human beings to see anything but the small picture. We are caught in the moment, as it were, and the bigger picture often escapes us. It is in moments like these that we literally begin to make a mountain out of the proverbial mole hill. It is also in moments like these that we are in need of just a little perspective.

As a minister I have seen some people go through pretty tough circumstances. Many of these people have witnessed to me with their faith, in spite of their circumstances. These people went through things I couldn’t even wish on my enemies, and yet they were the last to complain about their circumstances. I have seen veterans who have lost limbs and nearly their lives, who have suffered through homelessness and other terrible situations, striving to find ways to help other vets so that they don’t have to go through the same things. I have seen people who are terminally ill, worrying about others who are suffering over and above the things that they, themselves, are going through. I have seen people who are suffer from debilitating diseases giving thanks for all that they have. In India I saw young and impoverished children, infected with HIV/AIDS, dancing with joy over being visited by us at their orphanage.

On the flip side, I have seen people who are relatively well off complain over the slightest things. I have seen people who have been given so much complain about having so little. I have seen people take their lives and the blessings in their lives for granted. I have seen people who have been given so much in life feel entitled to for that much more. I have seen people who have everything in the world to be happy about walking around completely miserable about everything.

What I have come to understand is that we all have been blessed with the lives we have, whether we realize it or not. Being blessed in life does not mean that everything will go as I wish it to. It does not mean that I will never have bad days or that things will ALWAYS go easy. In fact, how blessed would I really be if I never had to work hard for anything? The fact of the matter is that we are alive…and that is a blessing.

This is not to guilt anyone for feeling lost in their situations; rather, this is being written as a hope-filled reminder that no matter how bad things may be, and no matter how bad we may think things to be, we have a lot to be thankful for. Let us become a people witness to the blessing of LIFE that we all have been given. Let us be a people who are thankful for whatever we have, whether it is little or plenty! Let us be a people who realize that we are blessed so that we may become a blessing and, then, let us become that blessing for others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree; in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free! In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.” Natalie A. Sleeth

PRAYER

Lord, help me to have perspective in the midst of my trials so that I may find joy even when I am not happy, and feel blessed even when I cannot see any blessing. More importantly, use me in a way that is a blessing to others, for then I will truly be blessed. Amen.