Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Beatitudes for Cynics

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 gentle, 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 receive 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 have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
-A poetic introduction to an ancient sermon, Matthew 5:3-12

You know Pastor Jesus, I thought your sermon was great—really poetic.  I really appreciated the chaism and the repetition.  It was great.  Just brilliant.  I did have a few questions about the content, though.  Jesus, let me see if I heard you right—the poor in spirit are fortunate?  Sure, in Proverbs it says that the poor in spirit are better than the proud,51 but really, does it help people to be associated with the lowly?  I mean, they are so… lowly.  So below par.  It’d be okay to give the lowly a buck now and them, but who would actually want to be socially connected with them? 

And those who grieve?  Happy?52  I don’t think so.  I mean, the fact that they are mourning means that they’ve got a reason to mourn.  To grieve actually means that you are the opposite of happy.  Somebody dying, terrible circumstances, being beat up, that kinda thing.  It just doesn’t make any sense.  I mean, sure Isaiah 61 says that God’s good news is for the mourning, but who really WANTS to mourn?53  There's nothing inherently joyful in that.

What about the meek?  A lot of the congregation here thinks this sounds okay—humble people ruling the earth.  Yeah, but they don’t really know who the meek are, do they?  Not like you and I. The meek aren’t just people who aren’t proud, even if they are CEOs or something.  These are the people who have no power, no opportunities—they have proven themselves unlucky.   Sure it says in Scripture that the meek would inherit the earth.54  But I hate to break this to you Jesus, but… the meek?  They don’t have anything except a bunch a trouble.  The meek are called meek because they don’t have much. 

And the hungry and thirsty for justice?  I’ve known a bunch of those people.  And there isn’t any money in seeking justice.  The ones who really are desperate for justice, it’s because they didn’t get any. Ever. And those who get injustice and can’t do anything about it, well, they’re just stuck.  I mean, if they sought justice, only to find that they can’t get any, well, it’s just too late for them, isn’t it?

            As far as the other folks you’re talking about, Pastor—the merciful, the clean in heart, the peacemakers—that’s all nice.  But let’s be practical.  If you are so merciful that you give your resources to those who need it, then you have no resources to really help the world, do you?  If you are so focused on being right before God, then how can you get ahead?  We want to live before God, but a little bit of compromise is necessary, right?  If you focus on creating peace between people, then you aren’t really the kind of person to really make positive changes in the world.  Reconciliation doesn’t get anything done.

            And the persecuted?  Well, that is the most ridiculous statement of all.  Can you imagine a bunch of rag-tag farmers in Congo running from an army suddenly turning around and ruling the world?  What about a teacher fired from her job in the U.S. because she was praying with students in charge of the education system?  A prisoner in Vietnam teaching the gospel, running some underground churches suddenly becoming the head of the Communist Party there?  How about a dead martyr in Bangladesh suddenly being at the head of parliament?  That’s hilarious!  You know, Jesus, that’s the one thing I really like about your sermons—you always make me laugh! 

            But really, Jesus, do you think that you should encourage these folks this way?  Despite the beauty of your poetry, I think that you are really leading people for a fall.  What happens after they don’t received what was promised—the weak and hopeless getting to rule the world and all?  What happens when they realize that it’s all pie-in-the-sky and no practical basis, no reality at all?  They’ll stop listening, is what.  They’ll realize that there’s no real hope in what you are saying.  And a people without hope are a people in despair. 

            My suggestion is, give them hope, but make it a little bit more graspable.  Tell them that if they vote a certain way that changes will happen. Or if they sign this petition. No, I KNOW that real change won’t happen through a single vote, but that’s the kind of thing that real hope is founded on.  Small goals that offer big changes.  Think of it as a white lie to keep people satisfied with their less than satisfactory lives.  At least you don’t drive them into despair that way.

Anyway, it’s just a suggestion. Have a good day, Pastor.  See you next week.

51.                Proverbs 16:19—one of only four places in Scripture that mention “the poor in spirit”, including Matthew 5, Isaiah 66:2 and Psalm 34:18.  In Proverbs and Psalms it is used as another way of speaking of the oppressed, even if not actually in poverty.  Since Matthew 5 has the parallel in Luke 6:20, we would rightly think that the meaning would be similar in both, but Luke doesn’t have the “in spirit” phrase.  Most of the people who interpret the beatitudes in Matt 5 interpret them to be something completely differently than in Luke.  But both can be interpreted to have the same meaning: the disciple who is oppressed is the one who is blessed by God.  In my mind, this is the better way of understanding both sets.

52. The Greek word for “blessed” literally means “happy.”  Thus, the Greek of Matthew 5:4 would read, “Happy are the mournful.”  While “happy are the poor in spirit” might be interpreted as possibly fitting together, in the second line Jesus is highlighting the contradiction to absurdity. 

53. The good news for the mourning—another term for the oppressed in both Isaiah 61 and the beatitudes—is not an internal help now, but the knowledge that because of their oppression they will get a greater release from oppression.  The basic message of the beatitudes is the joy of faith—knowing that the greatness of what is to come is the result of the suffering one has now.

54. Psalm 37:11.

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