Monday, January 31, 2011

The Beatitudes Matthew 5

The Pennypack near Fox Chase.

The Altar at the Medical Missions Convent

Matthew 5 The Beatitudes Sunday, January 30, 2011

We find all we need to know about ethical behavior in the Ten Commandments. We find all we need to know about Christian prayer in the Our Father. In today’s reading we find all we need to know about the promises that God brings to us in Christ Jesus. The first point: the promises in the beatitudes, these promises of happiness and consolation, are made to the humanity of Jesus. Jesus suffers to bring about these promises but one can say that God so relates to Jesus’ human spirit as to fill it with promised consolations. It is this Jesus that attracted the disciples and the great crowds that followed him.

Blessed, or “happy” as some faithful translations read, are the poor, the meek, those who mourn and those who show mercy. Blessed, too, are the peacemakers, those who thirst for justice, those whose hearts are pure and those who take insults in the name of Jesus. These promises are not merely a poetic turn of speech, not merely rhetoric for an auspicious occasion but they pour out of Jesus own heart and signify both his constant demeanor and his consoled frame of mind.
Let me say something about the nature of God in relation to the beatitudes and then read and comment on a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship.

First we step behind the reality of Jesus: The descriptors in the beatitudes tell us about the nature of God as well as any words in the scriptures. God, for example, is poor in the sense that there is no category of creation whose absence can make God poorer or whose presence can make God richer. God shows us the divine meekness and mercy, mourns with us when we test our freedom to our sorrow; God makes peace, desires justice, is pure of heart and is the first to hear the insults directed to the Person of Christ, the insults that deny Christ and that proclaim the death of God.

How is it possible for us to be like God and to live as Jesus lived in constant touch with the happiness of God? Dietrich Bonhoeffer confidently writes in The Cost of Discipleship the key to the nature of the beatitudes:

“[Jesus calls] the disciples blessed, not because of the privation or the renunciation they have made, for these are not blessed in themselves. Only the call and the promise, for the sake of which the disciples are made to suffer poverty and renunciation, can justify the beatitudes [can justify the state of happiness]. Sometimes Jesus speaks of privation [and the like] as if they implied particular virtues in his disciples, but that is neither here nor there. …Privation [and the like] all have the same ground—the call and the promise of Jesus.”

We value the comforts of the world: our health, our worldly reputation, our lives, our control over circumstance, an independence to make up our own minds about likes and dislikes. But to become disciples, to hear the call engages us in the common enterprise under the leadership of Jesus. We cling less to our worldly opinions; we worry less about our health; we care less about our worldly reputation; we ease our control. We place practical decisions in the hands of God.

Jesus himself experiences the happiness of this way of life and as the first born of all creation he offers it to us. We hear the call to discipleship and then experience the result of our call; it is the experience of Jesus: privation and renunciation. To the surprise of those who answer the call Jesus shares his consolation promising to us who have become his friends: “Blessed are you.”
God does not require most of us to live in such a crisis as the one that enveloped Bonhoeffer for the last decade of his life. God called him to be meek and a peacemaker, to thirst for justice and to mourn the collapse of Christianity under the Nazis.

He criticized publicly not only Hitler’s ideology and war machine but also his fellow Christians who denied themselves in their eagerness to cling to what little influence they retained in the era of Hitler. But Bonhoeffer prayed the Beatitudes finding that God would continue to console and be faithful to him. It is a testament to Bonhoeffer’s great character that even Hitler could not bring him to a legitimate trial and only in a gesture of vengeful weakness during the very last days of the war did Hitler order him executed. God uses the weak to shame the strong.

Our own crises pale in comparison to the crisis of Christianity in Hitler’s Germany but, have no doubt, the call and the promise of discipleship are for us in our own day-to-day lives. Many of us are restless in our search for the way of discipleship. God and the Lord Jesus are even more restless in their desire for our happiness. Blessed are those of us who have ears to hear.