Friday, October 24, 2008

Beatitudes (Part 2): Which virtues?

The first Beatitude

Matthew 5:3 says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

The focus of the one who is poor in spirit (economically and spiritually poor) is not on his or her own humility and virtue, but on God's grace and compassion....

But for those who are really poor in spirit know much better than others just how unvirtuous they really are. Jesus' focus is not on how perfect the poor in spirit are, but on how God is love, how God is present to redeem and how God will redeem.

We see how God feels deep compassion for the poor and the outcast when we see how Jesus cared....God is actively delivering the humble and the poor, Jesus' followers can rejoice...

Followers of Jesus participate in God's reign by humbling themselves before God, giving themselves over to God, depending on God's deliverance and following God in caring for the poor and the oppressed.

The Second Beatitude

Matthew 5:4 says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

Mourning...has a double meaning. Grief, the sadness, of those who have lost someone or something they care about deeply: the oppressed and the grieving mourn because they experience real loss and are sad. But it also means repentance: sinners mourn for their own sins, and the sins of their community and truly want to end their sinning and serve God.

When Jesus called for mourning, he meant the mourning of repentance that is sincere enough to cause us to change our way of living.

The Third Beatitude

Matthew 5:5 says, "Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth."

..."humble" in the sense of surrendered to God, and socially and economically poor or powerless. If we are poor and surrendered to God, we are blessed, because in Christ God is delivering us and we shall inherit the earth.

The word has another connotation as well. Wherever the Greek word here translated "meek" or better, humble, occurs in the Bible, it always points to peacefulness or peacemaking.....

It is no accident that Christ in Matthew twice is designated as meek. Therein rightly lies the heart of his differentiation from the Zealots, from the violence-using battlers for the reign of God.

...God is the God who gives rain and sunshine to enemy as well as friend, and calls us to love our enemies (Mt 5:43-48).

Blessed are those who are surrendered to God, who is the God of peace.

The Fourth Beatitude

Matthew 5:6 says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."

The question they usually ask is whether righteousness is sometihng God gives us or something we do. Their widely agreed answer is both. "God brings righteounsess as our deliverance, and we participate in it by doing righteousness"

Because our culture is individualistic, we think of righteousness as the virtue of an individual person. And because our culture is possessive, we think of it as something an individual possesses. But righteousness that an individual possesses is self-righteousness. And that is not exactly what the gospel says we cannot have (Rom 3). (righteousness in Hebrew tsedaqah) means delivering justic (a justic that rescues and releases the oppressed) and community-restoring justic (a justice that restores the powerless and the outcasts to their rightful place in covenant community)....And that is why the hungry and the thirsty hunger and thirst for righteousness; they yearn bodily for the kind of justice that delivers them from their hunger and thirst and restores them to community where they can eat and drink.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for a justice that delivers and restores to covenant community, for God is a God who brings such justice.

The fifth Beatitude

Matthew 5:7 says, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."

Mercy is about an action; specifcially, a generous action that delivers someone from need or bondage.

When Jesus walked down the road and a blind or crippled person called out, "Have mercy on me," he did not mean "Let me off easy" or "Forgive me," but "Heal me, deliver me from my afflicatoin."

"'Justice and mercy and faith' - these were the 'weightier matters of the law' neglected by Jesus' opponents,"...

Blessed are those who, like God, offer compassion in action, forgiveness, healing, aid and covenant steadfastness to those in need.

The sixth Beatitude

Matthew 5:8 says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."

The way to purity is in giving myself over to an "all-encompassing orientation toward God, Who creates all and therefore also purity...

The heart is a relational organ. When God speaks to me, I receive it in my heart. When I act angrily toward someone, I do it with my heart. The real split is not between inner and outer, but between God-serving and idol-serving. It is between giving aid to the poor in order to be noticed and respected by others, and giving as service to God.

Blessed are those who give their whole self over to God, who is the only One worthy of the heart's full devotion.

The Seventh Beatitude

Matthew 5:9 says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God"

Blessed are those who make peace with their enemies, as God shows love to God's enemies.

The Eight and Ninth Beatitudes

Matthew 5:10-12 says, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for rigtheousness' 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."

The Beatitudes should be interpreted as in the context of the prophets with their emphasis on God's reign and God's call for righteousness and justice, and the suffering that they bore for calling Israel to covenant fidelity in their own day.

Blessed are those who suffer because their practices of loyalty to Jesus and to justice.

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