January 29, 2017
“He began to teach them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’” (Mt 5:3)
The ten Beatitudes of today’s reading stand in complement to the Ten Commandments or words of the law in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.
The Ten Commandments represent the core of the whole law given to Israel by God. They prohibit eight concrete actions or kinds of behavior and require two actions or kinds of behavior. Written in the imperative voice (thou shalt, thou shalt not), these instructions are principally concerned with external action, with implied or suggested interior motives, such as reverence for God and for the work of his hands.
The Beatitudes repeat the form of ten words to summarize the teaching of Jesus. But they are notable for their focus on inner dispositions or virtues. Jesus does not dismiss or change the law, but rather pierces through to its essential meaning and lays bare its inner principles and motive force. They are called happy who have the interior dispositions described in the Beatitudes. Not good, but happy. This is not a morality of obligation (do this and you’re in, do that and you’re out) but a morality of excellence. Not a bare minimum for salvation, with failure and perdition knocking at the door, but a call to love beyond measure, after the example of Jesus himself.
With the Beatitudes, God has laid open his heart in Jesus for all to see.
The poor in spirit accept their poverty and weakness and even their sinfulness with boundless gratitude to the one who fills their emptiness with his bounty.
“I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2Cor 12:9-10)
They who mourn allow the suffering and confusion and sin in the world, in those they know, and in themselves to touch them, to pierce them. These tears heal.
“Oh, that my head were a spring of water, my eyes a fountain of tears, That I might weep day and night over the slain from the daughter of my people!” (Jer 8:23)
The meek are not afraid to absorb into their hearts and bodies the violence directed toward them without allowing it to pass from them and victimize another.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.” (Mt 5:38-40)
They who hunger and thirst for righteousness desire more than anything to see humanity standing upright before God, not bent in upon itself in contorted self-worship.
“For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rm 8:19-23)
The merciful long to pour out upon all the gratuitous gift they themselves have received in their nothingness, to be the hands of him who lifts up the lowly.
“The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.” (Lk 1:49-50)
The clean of heart have sat in long vigil over the waters of their inner thoughts, choosing which fish to draw to themselves, and which to let go, so that they might live continually the mind and heart of Christ.
“A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from before your face,
nor take from me your holy spirit.
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation;
uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Ps 51:12-14)
The peacemakers are like children of God who do not know enmity and cannot bear to see fissures emerge and widen between brothers and sisters. If necessary they throw themselves into the breach.
“For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it.” (Eph 2:14-16)
They who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness have drunk from the cup that Jesus drank and find their joy in him.
“After recalling the apostles, they had them flogged, ordered them to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and dismissed them. So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And all day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus.” (Ac 5:40-42)
May we be formed by these Beatitudes into a people after his own heart.
Image: Sieger Koder