Friday, August 1, 2008

Mike: The Final Beatitudes

As you suggest, I'll not respond in length to your previous post other than to say we share similar feelings and are in agreement.

Let's combine the final two beatitudes.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely, on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:10-12) (NRSV).

If we embrace the beatitudes, in the process opening ourselves to the active rule of God, the focus of our lives shifts. A modern Christian might put it this way: "My life's center has shifted, so that I now want to live in accordance with God's will, as seen in the life and ministry of Jesus." We start to live "in the kingdom of God" in the present moment, while awaiting the fullness of the kingdom. Past, present and future meet in us.

Tension results. When we try to walk through life playing by a different set of rules than prevailing culture (whether that of first century Rome, 21st century America, or even the tiniest subculture--think of one's own family system), trouble ensues. The combined beatitudes mention three examples: persecution, ridicule and slander. Such assaults threaten one's inclusion in a culture, reputation, self-esteem, economic well being, and possibly life.

Where's the blessing or genuine happiness in such a state? We have to be careful at this point. If we experience trouble because we have embraced and are being changed by immersion in the presence and will of God as described in the preceding beatitudes, such trouble verifies we're on the right track. It means we're in the company of the prophets and Jesus. That's good to know.

The danger is that we may well confuse being opposed with being "right." Many a fundamentalist Christian in America has been taught to view opposition as proof positive of his or her personal righteousness. I've known my share of Christian pastors who have bought into the idea that those who differ with them are "of the world and the devil." Such a worldview tends to reinforce self-righteousness, self-centeredness not God-centeredness. People who buy into the mindset often adopt one of two strategies in dealing with opposition: fight or flight. Both do violence to community and violate the peace-making intent of Jesus.

On the other hand, a healthy willingness to suffer without resorting to violence or escape may well be a mark of a Beatitudes person. Beatitudes persons do not seek suffering, but they are willing to endure it if need be in order to live now in the kingdom of God. Martin Luther King, to my mind, exemplifies such suffering. So does an Anglo pastor of that era in south Georgia who willingly lost his position because he refused to endorse segregation or racism. I suspect there are many women and men who lose out on career advancement because they are committed to the kingdom of God. The two of us probably could generate a long list of persons we've known who fit the bill.

I like the realism of the combined beatitudes. Becoming a kingdom of God person is the right and best thing to do with our lives, but it's seldom easy or "safe."


soldiermom said...

It is kind of late for this question, but I can't help thinking; what does it mean to "be blessed?" It is one of those words that people us all the time. Saying God blessed me, or I am blessing so and so. I just don't get it.

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Mike. It's a good question. We tried to deal a bit with it when we started through the beatitudes. The literal meaning of the Greek term is "happy." I believe Jesus teaches that genuine happiness comes to those who align their lives and priorities with God. When we do so, we begin to experience living in the kingdom of God in the present moment. This, of course, is what we were created to desire and do.

soldiermom said...

If I understand you correctly, being blessed then puts the onus on us, not on God? It always seemed to me that if we practice the beatitudes then God will bless us. Whatever that meant, I never did quite understand. I think what is being said here is that if we practice the beatitudes we will find happiness because we are experiencing the kingdom of Go on earth. Well, that is just cool.

Thanks Mike!