Read Matthew 5:1-12a
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. Read More…
Meet Sister Camilla Burns
Camilla Burns, SNDdeN is a Professor at Trinity Washington University. Prior to that she taught at Liverpool Hope University. Read More…
From time to time it is instructive to use another translation of the Bible. The use of a different word for one that is familiar catches us by surprise and gives us a new insight. In this spirit, I offer the translation of Mat 5: 3-11 by Nicholas King (Kevin Mayhew, 2004):
“Congratulations to the poor in spirit- theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Congratulations to those who are mourning – they shall be consoled.
Congratulations to the gentle – they shall inherit the earth.
Congratulations to those who are hungry and thirst for righteousness – they shall be satisfied.
Congratulations to the merciful – they shall be mercied.
Congratulations to the pure in heart – they shall see God.
Congratulations to those who create peace – they shall be called children of God.
Congratulations to those who are persecuted because of righteousness – theirs is the kingdom of God.”
Matthew situates Jesus on a mountain to remind us that Moses went up a mountain to receive the Law but Jesus ascends the mountain to give us a new Law. Note the contrast that Jesus does not receive the teaching as Moses did but gives it. What a shock to hear that in the new Law congratulations go to a litany of the poor in spirit, mourners, gentle, thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted. This is enough to make us retreat from the mountain!
Jesus gives us this teaching to navigate life. We might think of it as “the rules of the road.” Our attempts to negotiate life often come upon rough waters. Each of us could tell stories about the questions we face, the challenges we confront, and the difficulties we must overcome. Sometimes we seem to succeed and other times we don’t.
We often unwittingly try to navigate life through power, strength, accomplishment or acquisition. We may seek power so we can take what we want. We argue to be right so we can have our way. We compete to win so we’ll be respected and admired. The culture rewards us with a hearty congratulation for achievements in these categories but are they really the means of navigating the waters of life?
Jesus tells us that the waters of life are navigable but it is not through power, strength, accomplishment or acquisition. It is not enough for us, as believers and followers of Jesus, simply to make over a little piece of our world or life. It is not enough to just reform a political or economic system. Navigating life is not about overcoming circumstances or other people. It is about overcoming ourselves.
The temptation is to think that the beatitudes are rules or conditions for being blessed or receiving our heavenly reward. They are not that at all. They are not about building up, accomplishing, or acquiring. They are about letting go, surrendering, living with a vulnerable and open heart. It doesn’t mean we isolate ourselves from the realities of our life or the world. It means we engage them in a different way. The beatitudes teach us to trust God more than the external circumstances of our lives. They invite dependence on God rather than self-reliance.
In the trauma and setbacks of life we discover that we cannot do life by ourselves. As we admit our need of God we find purity of heart. The arrogance of self-sufficiency gives way to meekness. We realize that all that we are and have is from God and we begin to know ourselves as poor in spirit. Our own misfortunes awaken and connect us to the pain of the world for which we cannot help but mourn. We think less about ourselves and become merciful to others.
The beatitudes are not so much about what we do, our actions, but how we do, our being. They are less about actions and more about relationships. To live the “rules of the road” given to us by Jesus is to live a life of exuberant, self-abandonment to God and our neighbor. That’s called love. Any progress we make in this plan of steering the waters of life deserves a hearty congratulation. The Feast of All Saints is a ritual congratulation for that mighty “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us. May their example of navigating life give us courage and steadfastness in following the life-changing, life-enriching teaching of Jesus.