A BLESSED PERSPECTIVE
The Deacon, in his homily, once again patiently explained to the congregation each of the eight characteristics that God wanted us to adopt. Light bulbs went off in my head...the Deacon was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. All my life, I've been trying to figure out how I'm supposed to live these out, but Jesus was not trying to give us characteristics we need to strive to acquire or to live out. He was giving the disciples and all of us a different perspective. A blessed perspective.
To understand the Beatitudes we have to keep them in the context of the Gospel as Matthew related it. The disciples had just been called and they had been touring Galilee with Jesus. They had witnessed him proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom and curing people of every disease and illness. They had seen the crowds of people beginning to grow and swell in number as people from Galilee, Jerusalem, Judea and from across the Jordan brought the sick, the paralyzed and all those afflicted with pain to Jesus.
Remember, at this time, the disciples were in training by Jesus. Step one in the training process was to call them to follow him. Step two was to give them an experience of what it meant to follow him; that is, dealing with crowds of people who were desperate to be made whole. The disciples had to be a bit overwhelmed at this time. Jesus, being the ultimate leader, knew that it was time to progress to step three in the training. He took them away from the crowds to a mountain. His disciples gathered around him and he gave them a way to look at the crowds. He gave them the approach he wanted the disciples to take as his followers. He gave them a perspective which was radically different then what was common at the time and even today.
In a world where human affliction and sorrow was seen as a punishment by God for personal sin, Jesus proclaimed that human affliction was not a punishment but a blessed moment in someone's life. He was instructing his disciples on how they were to look at themselves as well as the hoards of people who would be coming to them. Jesus was giving his disciples not only the perspective they needed but also the words to use when they encountered the variety of needs, pains, suffering and desires.
In essence, Jesus said to his disciples, I want you to know that people who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, long for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers and persecuted for righteousness are all blessed. When you encounter them let them know that, even thought it might not feel like it at the time, God is with them in a special way. Divine favor is upon them.
But Jesus did not stop there. He even gave the disciples and all of the blessing we should look for when we are experiencing any of those "blessed moments". He painted the picture of what that moment could bring an that through the pain, suffering and persecution we should be mindful of and watchful for the blessing which will come.
Renoir, the great painter, suffered painful arthritis in his later years. A young boy once asked him, "Mr. Renoir, why do you paint when it causes so much pain?" Renoir answered, "Because the pain passes but the painting remains." Jesus was saying to his disciples that they and all the people they would encounter are God's masterpieces. The painful strokes of life as well as the joyful strokes are all part of creating the masterpiece.
It is our choice as disciples of Jesus, to choose to call the various strokes of life "blessed". When we do that it gives us the mindset to begin to accept the blessing that will remain. The blessed moment passes but the blessing remains.
Jesus was presenting a radical and difficult walk with God. When someone has just buried a loved one it is hard to say that person is blessed in their mourning. But that is exactly what Jesus is saying. The person who is mourning has God with them in a special way. Those who mourn can be mindful of and watch for the blessing of being comforted. It does come. The experience of being comforted by the community is literally divine if you allow yourself to experience it. The "blessed moment" passes but the blessing of comfort remains.
Rick Velghe, a dear friend, experienced the death of his wife, Patty. He often spoke of the blessing he received from the community as he and their three children walked in the valley of tears. Years later when he was dying of cancer he actually was concerned about me and how I was doing. He told me, " I have now been on both ends of the dying experience. I am on the easier end - being left behind is so much harder."
Each blessed moment that passes has a blessing that will remain:
BLESSED MOMENT.......................BLESSINGS Poor in Spirit...................................Theirs is the Kingdom of God Mourn............................................... Comforted Meek.............................................. Inherit the land Hunger & thirst for justice ..............Will be satisfied Merciful.........................................Shown mercy Clean of heart................................They will see God Peacemakers'..................................Called children of God Persecuted for the sake of righteousness....Theirs is the Kingdom of God
Jesus did not mince words at the end of this portion of his teaching. He clearly defined the distinct possibility of what was to come if his disciples continued to follow him. What I find fascinating, is Jesus never apologized for how hard it was going to be for those who followed him. Instead, he prepared his followers by stating exactly what could happen. He said, "let me tell you that when you get insulted and persecuted and people utter every kind of evil and lie against you because of me [then chalk that up as a blessed moment]" Rejoice and be glad because the reward will be great in heaven! The blessing will remain forever.
I sat in mass today and heard the Gospel reading of the Beatitudes being proclaimed and a lightbulb went off in my head. What I love about insights is that it doesn't matter how many years it takes for them to surface because when the lightbulb comes it illuminates a new approach that can be wrestled with and lived and worked on until the next insight illuminates the next part of the path. For now I will walk with the understanding that in Matthew 5:3-12, Jesus was not trying to give us characteristics we need to acquire or live out. He was giving the disciples and all of us a different perspective. A blessed perspective.
Sara Fontana Original article written 1/31/2005 Revised 3/22/2021