Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Beatitudes

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven."

This list of qualities Jesus says we all should embrace is something most of us have heard before ... maybe many times. And it might be that we are so familiar with this list we call the Beatitudes that we have stopped recognizing how shockingly radical and challenging they are. The formula Jesus gives us for living life is radically different than what the world says will make us happy. 

“Blessed” are ... the poor ... the mourners ... the meek ... and ... the persecuted?

That sounds kind of strange to our ears; doesn’t it?  Our culture says just the opposite, focus on security, on keeping your health. Our culture celebrates the wealthy, famous and the powerful. They are the one’s our culture tells us are the most fortunate and so the happiest.  

Jesus says today that’s just not true. That’s wrong!

If you really want to be happy – blessed – he says live these Beatitudes. He instructs us to embrace this surprising list of traits fully; even though they are completely counter-cultural. Then later in this same speech, he tells us not to worry about the needs of this life.  He implies that if we just live these by these values, God will take care of us.

He said: “... do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

The beatitudes Jesus preached about that day are the way he wants us to orient our life.  They aren’t things to do at all; they are core qualities that define a person who wishes to live a blessed life. They are the essence, the heart of what it means to be a Christ-follower ... a Christian. Jesus is giving us a formula for living a meaningful and joyful life. The Christian is called to a life that is a paradox; a paradox that says that living a life sensitive to suffering can lead to a joy-filled life.

Take the beatitude about mourning, for example, Jesus said those that mourn are blessed. Really?  How does that work? We ask. When we hear this Beatitude, we think of those who grieve at the death of a dearly loved family member or friend, or someone suffering some grave injustice. And we interpret what Jesus is saying as: “They will be comforted in this life  or the next.” But maybe he is saying something a bit different. Perhaps Jesus is inviting all of us, even those whose lives are not sorrowful,  to become blessedly happy by embracing the sorrows of others.

Jesus is saying
-       that mourning with others and helping them through their sorrow
-       hungering for justice
-       being merciful
-       being a peacemaker
That’s the path to living a blessed life.  That’s the path to true happiness.

Jesus is saying to us today, if you want to be truly happy don’t spend your life seeking to be thought of as wise, strong and successful. If you want to be truly happy,
-       seek to be compassionate.
-       seek to bring justice to the world
-       seek to help those who mourn
-       seek to be merciful
-       and a peacemaker 
-       stand up for what you know is right even if you get insulted and persecuted for it. 

Notre Dame University highly honors one of their alums who understood this teaching Dr. Tom Dooley. After graduating from medical school, Dr. Dooley enlisted in the Navy as a doctor. One hot July afternoon off the coast of Vietnam his ship rescued 1,000 refugees who were drifting helplessly in an open boat. Many of the refugees were diseased and sick. Since Dooley was the only doctor on the ship, he had to tackle, single-handedly, the job of giving medical aid to these people. It was backbreaking, but he discovered what a little medicine could do for sick people like this. He said in a book he wrote about his experiences:  “Hours later, I stopped a moment to straighten my shoulders and made another discovery — the biggest of my life. I was happy treating these people. Happier than I had ever been before.”

Dooley’s experience that hot July afternoon changed his life forever. When he got out of the Navy, he returned to the jungles of Asia and set up a small hospital to serve the poor and the sick. Dr. Dooley explained the paradox of the Beatitudes this way; he said:  “To be more aware of the sorrow in the world than of the pleasure can bring joy to life. If you’re extra sensitive to sorrow” he said “and you do something, no matter how small to make it lighter, you can’t help but be happy (blessed). That’s just the way it is.”

The “poor in spirit” are the people who are totally detached from worldly things and totally attached to heavenly things. They are the people whose focus in life is serving God and each other, who regard their personal needs as secondary. The “poor in spirit” are found not only among society’s lowliest people but also among its most successful people.

We have a fantastic example of that right now in our Pope – Pope Francis; arguably the most famous man in the world. He lives it; he models poor in spirit. In the grandness of the Vatican, he lives simply and reaches out to those who suffer. Images of his tender touch for those who suffer are everywhere; washing the feet of men in prison for example. That is being poor in spirit. That is embracing that loving like Jesus loved brings true joy. And whenever you see a picture of the Pope you see the JOY all over him. 

The Beatitudes of Jesus present a model for finding joy that is contrary to what is usually communicated by the media and by prevailing American wisdom. 

We need to think about that.

Pope Francis said to the crowds at World Youth Day;

“Tell me: Do you really want to be happy? In an age when we are constantly being enticed by vain and empty illusions of happiness, we risk settling for less and “thinking small” when it comes to the meaning of life. Think big instead! Open your hearts! To live without faith, to have no heritage to uphold, to fail to struggle constantly to defend the truth: this is not living. It is scraping by.”

Let’s not just scape by, read the Beatitudes again at home and open your heart.

Today ask Jesus to show you how to live them out – every day.

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