Summary: The Beatitudes as a Blueprint for Sainthood, sermon for All Saints 2002
Text: Matthew: 5:1-12
In the name of the +Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Mark Twain was asked once if he found the Bible hard to understand. He responded by saying he wasn’t bothered by the parts of the Bible he couldn’t understand as much as he was bothered by the parts he could understand.
The Beatitudes, from the latin word for ’blesséd’ are one of those parts: They are extremely well known, universally recognised as the most important moral teaching ever given on this earth and yet almost universally disregarded.
The Missal always gives a summative quote before each reading and this evening, it points us to “rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven”, suggesting that this is the prescription for Sainthood. These are the values to which we should aspire if we wish to join the company of Saints.
Pope John Paul made an acute observation about society, and whom it is that appear “blesséd.”
Blessed are the proud
Blessed are the violent
Blessed are those who prosper at any cost
Blessed are the unscrupulous
Blessed are the pitiless
Blessed are the devious
Blessed are those who fight
Blessed are the persecutors
If you watched television, or read the newspapers, you would be forgiven for thinking that those act proud get promoted and get ahead, the violent get their way, those who are unscrupulous and devious and who don’t care about the cost often end up with the most prosperity.
Contrast that with the Beatitudes of Our Lord. Time and time again, we are taught that God’s ways are not our ways, and that the people’s beatitudes have nothing to do with God’s values.
Christ tells us that Blessed are the poor in spirit (Saint Luke says simply “the poor”). The Poor in Spirit are those people who recognize their dependence on God, who recognize that all they have and are is a gracious gift of God. This is the opposite of the person who feels they “have it all together,” that has life under control and can manage everything on their own, with no need of God. The most negative character in Shakespeare is Iago in Othello, a character who rejects all dependence on God and suggests falsely that “’Tis within ourselves that we are thus or thus”. Such self-reliance is ultimately pointless, as Society is rapidly discovering. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven belongs not to the self-reliant, but the reliant on God. That is truly subversive.
Jesus next says Blessed are those who mourn. What does Jesus mean here? How can those who are in mourning be considered “blessed?” Isn’t the opposite true – shouldn’t we consider those who mourn as people to be pitied? Jesus claims that they will be comforted, reminding us that we will find comfort in God’s kingdom.
In our culture, we are not encouraged to mourn. We might be permitted, for a little while, but not much time passes and people start to suggest, “It’s time for you to move on. Get over it. Stop mourning and get on with life.” But mourning is the healing of a wound – we learn to gradually adapt our lives around the loss of an individual, but just as a scar remains, so does the impact a person as on your life remains. The bereavement process is that healing, so no one can be told to “get on with life”. The wisdom of Jesus turns conventional wisdom on its head. It is blessed to mourn, for those who mourn will be comforted. That is genuinely subversive.