Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount circa 30 AD by the Sea of Gallilee. This was the 'new covenant' of God and Man that fulfilled the Old Covenant of God and Man as given to Moses. The Beatitudes are found in the Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven:
- I struggle with the meaning of the "poor in spirit" but remember the woman touching Jesus' garment and his feeling his spirit going out to her. Throughout there is a message of giving to others as in the washing of his disciples feet. I think simply that this message at the first level is that those who give of themselves to others, especially those who have less in health or wealth or life, will be rewarded by entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
- The 'kingdom of heaven' phrase is also difficult because it suggests that the afterlife is divided at least into heaven and hell, yet I believe that the 'good news' of the gospel is that God's mercy is greater than his Judgement. So while there is hell just as Jesus descended after crucifixion this message was that even those in hell could make their way to heaven should they choose to follow the light.
Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted:
- I believe that Jesus here is saying that those who mourn will be comforted a)because their loved ones will be restored to them in heaven thereby giving them comfort. b) Alternatively Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as comforting and mourning is an act of respect and a kind of prayer of appreciation for the life of another so that it too will bring comfort. The message again is that the unselfish, those who consider others, those who appreciate the living and the dead, those who remember will indeed in time find peace. In contrast there's naturally those who don't feel kinship with dead and feel that when the body dies the other dies. Jesus clearly states that there is a body and a soul and while the body is temporal our personal souls are spiritual and continue after death of the body.
Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth:
- The meek here could be those who lack courage to choose the spiritual path and therefore only get the earth. Alternatively the meek may be the children, the poor, the outsiders, the invalids and they will inherit the earth or become the leaders of the earth as opposed to the 'strongmen' of the day. The 'strongman' of warrior tradition is supplanted by the meek or gentle. This certainly would go along with Jesus' love the children, and care for the sick. But that they would inherit the earth. Just what does this mean? People from Gandhi to Tolstoy have certainly been moved by this one line.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled:
- I can honestly say that I hunger and thirst for righteousness. My tendency is to see the corruption and injustice in the world. I am appalled daily by the news and think it horrible that two and a half million people are imprisoned in the US or that half the people imprisoned in Canada are waiting trial. I daily am encountering abuses by individuals, insurance companies, governments and bullies. Yet I think that the righteousness that Jesus speaks of is more about my own being right. I pray that I make the right decision and pray that I don't make mistakes in my work. I struggle to know what I need to know and to do the best in my daily endeavours. I think righteousness here speaks to that inner world where 'my mistakes' are lessened by my longing for my own wrongs to be righted. Maybe if I am a better person then my community and country can be better.
Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy:
- This speaks to the golden rule of 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. It is a recurrent theme for Jesus. He says 'pluck the timber out of your own eye before trying to take a sliver out of your neighbours." In the Lord's Prayer he says, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive the trespasses of others." This is called 'divine retribution' in Christian terms and Karma in the east. It says that the wrongs we do will come back to us and that the good we do will as well. We are not alone. We're all interconnected. It's really fundamentally physics at the spiritual level. And I think it's the new gospel that God is Love and the Mercy of Love is greater than the Judgement of Love.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God:
- "Pure in heart" is a difficult term. I feel 'impure'. I have made so many mistakes. I have been unkind to my parents and family when young, loved my brother less than he deserved, am thoughtless of my nephews, have been divorced and failed miserably as a husband. I have so often been unloving and unkind to others because I've been so caught up in my own fears and pain and anger and desire to have more. I don't feel particularly 'pure' but I don't think that this refers to the naïve or innoscent. Surely if I'd followed my parents advice I might well be further along the path of civilization than my own rebellious nature took me. I know that the greatest leaders were also the greatest followers but I chose to follow men who were shallow and deceitful and arrogant. I showed little discernment at times in those I choose to admire. My father warned me about this. I certainly had good teachers but too often turned away from the kinder and wiser one for those I found more colourful. I listened to Heavy Metal music when I would have saved my hearing and gained more by listening to more Beethoven. The message of Christianity though is that immersion in the spiritual regardless of where one has been can result in the restoration of our 'purity'. There is the image of the "refiner's fire'. God if we ask him will take the dross of our natures and purify us. Purity of heart isn't necessarily what I'm born with as we all make mistakes but it is indeed an active and voluntary activity not a genetic thing. I think it refers to love and fear and that the more I love and the less I fear the more I see God. It's difficult though because it involves forgiving oneself and all those who have been in one's life as well. It's a life long goal, I think, rather than a select group of people who lucked out and were born with better hearts and eyes. I think there is hope even for me. I might have a pure heart and see God. And I can't help but think seeing God would be worth it.
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God:
- Peacemaking is not 'unilateral disarmament'. It's not running away. It's not blind 'pacifism'. It's diplomacy. It's compromise. It's probably even making peace by ending a war. It's martial arts of the defensive kind, I believe. I could not be a Christian if I believed that after turning my cheek 40 x 40 times that I should let the cannibal eat my body without a struggle. I sometimes say Chamberlain caused WWII because he, the English, and the French and Americans gave Hitler and the German people so many chances to stop their war mongering. I would have liked to have had Germany 'smote' when it first broke the rules and began to build it's own army. Yet Chamberlain struggled so hard to make peace with Germany. Probably too long as Churchill would argue. Certainly it's good to 'nip violence in the bud'. Certainly its easier to make peace earlier rather than late. I wasn't a good peace maker in marriage and the 'war of the roses' in my personal life reflects my own inadequacy in this regard. I stood up to downright evil authorities killing and covering up their crass deceit but I did little to make peace afterwards. There has been so much I could have done better but I have such a warrior nature that I rarely consider the bigger picture when I'm caught in the little battles. I have been so cutting and biting with my words that I've been left singing Leonard Cohen's song, Bird on a Wire all alone at the end of the day. The apologies aren't sufficient. After the war the Nuremberg Trials had so many of the Nazi's apologizing. But the judge then said it was too late. I think God's mercy is forever but my job today is to think ahead to the peacemaking even if I enter a war zone. I have to remember that after the war I will have to live next to my neighbor. I think that's what 'peacemaker's' are really about. I am somewhat nauseated by the Pollyanna sort of adolescent peacemaker wagging a finger at everyone else while fighting in their own house. The United Nations had a lot of those sorts, holier than thou but their own houses a mess. I think peacemaking should begin at home. It's not 'easy'. If it seems 'easy' it's probably not 'godly' because being the 'sons of God' isn't very popular because it isn't easy. It's much easier because of our nature to be either overtly or covertly aggressive. We collectively as humans fluctuate between grandiose and paranoid and being a peacemaker is at the centre of the balance. But what do I know really. I'm struggling with this stuff on a daily basis.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven:
- When I think of 2 and ½ million people in American jails and all the people in jails and asylums in Canada , those 1-2% of the population, I begin to wonder if a lot of them won't get to heaven quicker than we who put them there. I have had my share of persecution and while some of it was my own choosing and predictable because of my hot headedness I have nonetheless been persecuted a lot for righteousness. There are always those with 'invested interests' and no matter how wrong people are the 'reformer is the enemy of those who benefit from the status quo.' That said I know I have to be more sensitive to those that I persecute. It's so much easier to recognize one's own persecution than it is to see when one is the persecuter. Emerson the father of American Philosophy wrote, "the redslayer thinks he slays and the slain thinks he is slain, they know not well the ways I keep and turn and toss again". It's not black and white but shades of grey in most cases. The black and white world is child's play. Morality and ethics always get down to Sophie's Choice. For others it's easy to say what is right but for ourselves its more difficult. I talked to a Nazi who fought for the German Army and he told me that his wife and child would have been killed if he hadn't fought. It's a really difficult job being a judge. I'm sure the best struggle as I do with the fear of mistakes made and wondering if they couldn't have done better. I am too often harsh in tone when I'm struggling desperately with clarity of content. I am time pressured and overworked and have far too much to do and fear that I will miss the important thing in the deluge of demands made by government and men and women upon me. I know mistakes happen. I think of the soldier who shoots the child and how sad he feels but the child was carrying a bomb and if he had not shot his buddy might have been killed. It's never easy. The Beatitudes speak to hope though.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
- Christians are being persecuted. The spiritual are persecuted. Those who even mentioned God or Jesus Christ are commonly persecuted. The moral and the ethical are persecuted. If I meet a man without scars I know he must have made a pact with the devil in some way because all those who are good seem to have taken their share of abuse. There may be no 'neutrality' as much as people want to believe that they are not responsible or accountable. I feel personally accountable and responsible for the poverty, disease and dying early that occurs in the third world. That doesn't mean necessarily that I don't enjoy my own priviledge and benefit and blessing. I just know that I can't enjoy my meal being watched by a starving child. I must share and be apart of for authentic happiness and the true experience of joy. We are all in this together and there is no 'me first' in heaven.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
- Truth telling, peace making, loving, being virtuous have all faced persecution. Even refusing to do drugs gets people persecuted. Even refusing to cover up and lie for management gets people demoted and marginalized. There's a lot of persecution but for doing right we are rewarded in heaven.
The clincher that this heaven Jesus speaks of isn't just 'after life' but here and now in the day to day life of everyone. There is a feeling and a sense of goodness and grace that surpasses all understanding when one does the right thing even when it doesn't mean that one is rewarded financially or promoted by the government or management. It is when we are doing right and being good that we are god-like and experience heaven here . There's a capacity for transcendence in the present that is truly miraculous. And this potential occurs in every moment of every day. It's in the wee small things and the wee small voice and the day to day decisions. They add up.