A List Set out by Jesus
All Saints' Day, November 5/2017, Year A RCL
Revelation 7:9-17, Psalm 34:1-10, 22, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12
The Beatitudes can appear to be a checklist on how to become saintly. No wonder the Saints were saints because we would be hard-pressed to live out these beatitudes. It is true that Saints are known for specific deeds, or acts, or even suffering. They are known to be people who spread the Gospel and increase the Church. Many are known to keep their faith even in the hardest of times. We know from the stories in the Bible that the Apostles, who are regarded as Saint’s, were really just human. Simon Peter was strong-willed, impulsive, and spoke without thinking. James and his brother John were often too quick to judge people as enemies of the Lord. And St. Thomas, also known as Doubting Thomas, was slow in believing, easily discouraged, and had his doubts. In this short list, we easily see the all too human side of the disciples.
When we dig down into the stories, past the sometimes exaggerated goodness known as hagiographies, we find a picture of the whole person, not just the glorified things that the Saint has done. When we do this we see that all Saints, all the men and women who have done incredible things in Christ name, had their faults and problems much like we do. I mention this not to diminish what they have done but to illustrate that Saints are really not that different than we are.
To be honest, I find the beatitudes beautiful much like poetry, but they also rub me the wrong way. It isn’t so much that they seem imperious; after all, we look to Jesus for guidance. What bothers me is that we read them as if they are a carrot on a stick; if you do this, then you will become blessed.
The beatitudes are a list set out by Jesus; a list that would be fairly impossible to achieve and I’m not sure there are many people, including the Saints, who have achieved them all. I’m lead to believe that the Beatitudes are truly a list not to be achieved as much as a list that shows us how we are already blessed by our hardships and continued faith.
Not one of the beatitudes or life conditions is better than another. Yet there are some people who hold up one of the beatitudes as being better than others. For example, Billy Graham has a devotional on his website. He says that “The pure in heart are the only ones who can know what it means to be supremely happy.”(1) Gram says that this greatness comes from this person’s honesty and integrity. A person who is pure in heart can be trusted, he says.
But I disagree with his interpretation. Jesus doesn’t say being pure in heart is above all the rest. And by biblical standards, you can don’t have to be a terrific person to be considered pure in heart. Your purity usually came from social standing and your ability to follow the law, the Torah. Even if this person should break the law, they could repent, pay retribution, and become upright again. For example, Paul said we should have no confidence in the flesh. For I was “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” He was blameless, pure in heart.
When we look at the Beatitudes we will notice that they do not say you are blessed if you become meek. It says blessed are the meek. The word blessed in Greek is makarios and it is not easily translated. Though we often see it translated as blessed. A possibly better translation would be happy and yet another is “to be envied.”(2) So we could say envied are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
We know people who are poor in spirit, we know people who mourn, and we know people who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Often it is easy to see someone who is zealous for righteousness, and I’m not talking about self-righteousness, but someone who is zealous for the Lord. It is easy to see them as happy; not just blessed. And it is sometimes easy to be envious of such a person because they enjoy sharing what they have learned and they have such a desire to get to know the Lord even better.
Most of us have mourned at some point in our lives. The grieving process can be terribly hard. Eventually, through our grief and healing we often, not always, but often, realize the happiness we find in our loved one’s life. This happiness that may come from the love that we shared, witnessing the end of their suffering, or just knowing that this person is now with us where ever we are. This person is in our hearts and minds through the stories we tell and the memories we have.
We can go through these nine beatitudes and find these characteristics in the people we have known. We find that some of these traits come from who
God made them to be, or from continually deepening their relationship with God, while others come out of the hardships they experienced in life. God has favor for those who are marginalized, persecuted, or those who are suffering.
Through this understanding, we may now realize how through our circumstances we can be blessed or receive an extra bit of grace from God. And instead of dwelling on our misery, when we find God in our hardships we become happier. The saints of ages past are clearly imperfect models of the Christian life and the saints that we have known in our lives may also be imperfect. But they can also be the incredible people who have helped form us into the human beings we are today in which through their blessings and hardships we see Christ shine. It is through God’s grace that they have been blessed. It is through their great examples that we have been blessed by them in our lives in which we remember them with such fondness.
2) Strong’s #3107 Greek