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Monday, November 3, 2014

Re-writing the Beatitudes

My sermon for this week was based on Matthew 5:1-12.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

Ancient peoples laboured under a fairly straightforward equation: if you do good things, God will love you and He will give you good things.  You would be blessed.  The corollary was also true: if you do bad things, God will hate you and give you bad things.  You would be cursed..

We've come a long way, though, right?  Surely, we no longer make such a rigid distinction between who is affirmed and who is not in our society, right?

Haha, I just made myself laugh.

The fact of the matter is that the difference between the haves and have-nots are more pronounced than ever.  We glorify movie and rock stars, athletes, we affirm the wealthy, the powerful, the educated.  Conversely, we negate the poor, the homeless, the sick, the powerless.  We line up to buy the latest iPhone while others line up for a bowl of soup.

Why, in 6000 odd years of recorded history have we not gotten better at this whole humanity thing?

The Sermon on the Mount, and particularly the Beatitudes we read today have been rightly called the most revolutionary speech of all times.

The reason being is that Jesus' listeners brought the expectations of their time and culture with them when they sat down with Jesus on the Mount.  And when Jesus started talking about who was blessed, they were undoubtedly expecting him to say exactly what they already thought: blessed were the rich, healthy and powerful.  The evidence was that they were rich, healthy and successful.  Clearly, God loved and blessed them and had showered them with good things.  Obviously.

But Jesus didn't say that.  He said blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are outcast.

This would have stood his listeners on their heads because it would have run counter to their expectations, as it runs counter to ours.

We look at movie stars and say they are lucky (another way of saying blessed, really).  We look at athletes and say the same thing.  We look at the rich and envy them.

Perhaps we don't envy the poor, hungry or sick, but how revolutionary is it to think that their lack is in no way reflective of how much or how little God loves them, or that they are worthy of love, period?

The word "beatitude" means "supreme blessedness".  It has the same root as the term "beatific vision".  We celebrate All Saints Day today, and what distinguishes the Saints from the rest of us is that they had received a "beatific vision".  In simple terms, they had caught a glimpse of God that was clearer, more lucid and more accurate than your average person.  They understood God and his will more coherently, and that is what made them special.

So why do we call the Beatitudes the Beatitudes?  And why should people we normally associate with hard luck be the recipients of God's supreme blessedness?  I certainly don't feel that way when I am one of the people listed in them.

I think what it comes down to is wealth, comfort, power, prestige and constant health risks making us blasé.  There is nothing wrong with considering them "blessings", but the key is to be consciously grateful for them.  And so many of us take our blessings for granted.

The poor, the hungry, the sick, the homeless are those who actually constantly seek God and his compassion.  We, on the other hand, often feel we don't need it because we are just doing so darn well on our own, thanks.  The downtrodden know God and his mercy in way that you and I often forget or deliberately ignore.

The other key is to realize that even though someone may be poor, ill, homeless or mentally ill, that does not mean they are any less loved by God.

More importantly, they are no less worthy of our love and respect.

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