Dear and beloved reader, I enclose for your spiritual reading the first few chapters from my new book, Learn from Me, and Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, it was launched in May this year by my old professor of scripture from St. Patrick’s pontifical university in Maynooth who described it as a “wonderful book”. The Sermon is of course Christ’s new commandments, also given on a mountain, for the new people of God; at its center is the Beatitudes (blessed are the peacemakers etc). It has no “thou shalt nots”, but shows that the way Christ charts is the way to perfect happiness both for the individual and the world at large, its salvation and perfection in every way if only people had the wisdom to follow it. All that is explained in the introductory chapters; I also show the relevance of the Sermon for today and how the greatest heroes of our age have lived its values, Christian and non-Christian alike, for it is God’s universal message for the establishment of a heaven on earth and to set all people free. So I also enclose the 2 chapters on the first Beatitude, “blessed are the poor in heart” about detachment from destructive greed and possessiveness; I will blog other chapters later.. So read on and enjoy. If you would like to get the book its available on line from More Books. ie, cite the ISBN 978-3-330-70265-3. Note I am not doing this for any monetary profit, I have lost money on all my books for I have kept them as cheap as possible. This is part of my service to you my little internet congregation in the faith, for I know all of you like myself love Christ dearly and would do anything for him and we need to spread the faith any way we can in these difficult times, and deepen our own understanding of the faith so that we can as Paul says, give perfect reasons for the hope that is in us. God bless you all,
Your internet spiritual pastor
Fr. Con Buckley
In 1993, John Paul 11, in Veritatis Splendor, restated the fundamentals of church moral teaching:
That God has communicated the same moral requirements both as natural law, by giving human persons understanding of what is right and wrong, and as revealed truth. Since grace perfects human nature, Christian morality, while going beyond natural law, always includes it” (Grisez.36).
Anyone reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount must see that it is all that and more. Jewish Scholars see it as refining the Old Testament and radicalizing the demands of the Old Covenant. Protestant scholars see it as over-idealistic, driving us to despair at its achievement. This study’s shows that it “demonstrates that the Kingdom is here and that those who turn towards it will receive power to live its demands” (Fuellenbach 121).
I go further and say that it is accessible, eminently doable, and that it has been lived by the best and happiest people of our age. For it’s what morally ought to be, and that’s what all good men and women want at heart. Sure, it’s idealistic, but Christ’s risen presence with us until the end of time, and the overflowing grace he provides, makes it perfectly possible. For it is a redemptive code, not a lowest-common-denominator cop out as some modern secular moral codes tend to be. While having merits as far as they go, any secular moral or purely practical ethical code is woefully limited when set against Christ’s great blueprint for perfection, the Sermon, which offers immense transcendent challenges, and immense rewards for the soul. Yet one can even argue that the Sermon is really just what all aspire to deep down; it epitomizes the universal quest for what’s right and true, for humanity’s fullest lived life, happiness and integrity in every way.
But it is one thing to know what is right, and another to want to and be able to do what is right. From a Christian perspective, humanity needs extra grace to do the supreme good outlined for us by God, given human weakness and imperfection. Christians have the immense advantage of the grace of the risen Lord and the church to guide them in that enabling process. That is, though the Spirit is accessible to all, and all are saved in Christ, and all can attain to the truth through reason, because of man’s fallen nature special helps and guidance are usually needed to attain to the highest level or truth and moral living. So the Christian aspect of man’s ability to live the high ideals of the Sermon it’s in what Harrington describes as “the more”. More is asked of, and more is possible, within a graced Messianic community. It is a fact that man cannot do it on his own; he needs to be saved from his baser self. That is why Christ had to come, to raise us up to our highest dignity and integrity (looking at the Holocaust, to give but one example, who can say man doesn’t need to be redeemed). That is why after he was raised up, Christ set up his church as a conduit of vital saving grace, guidance, and sacramental enabling.
Thereby even the humblest Christian can be the light of the world. The Sermon provides the gospel guidance that is also needed to see and interiorize the highest good more easily. So, though its high standards have been intuited, and can be lived universally, and non-Christian saints such as Ghandi have lived some of its key aspects, at a general level this more difficult and the results usually more partial.
For the Sermon also provides a powerful spirituality to pull the cart of its ideals. The paths to deep spirituality available within the people of God enable its members to gain the inner dispositions and motivation to live the Sermon; hence the church produces saints in every age, from Francis to John Paul 11. All seek more than mediocre living. The Sermon charts a communal righteousness made possible within the Kingdom of God come to earth in Christ.
But it is not a moral code of arid righteousness such as the Pharisees practiced. It’s a way to total human freedom in the Spirit. It charts what will unfailingly make us happy and enables us to make others happy. As such it’s both eminently reasonable, and more than reason; it includes the entirety of human experience; imagination, feeling, creativity, insight and love. And it adds divine wisdom, way above man’s efforts to find a purely secular basis for morality: in the modern context we might cite consequentialism, proportionalism etc in the latter regard. As John Paul 11 notes, the Sermon is the splendor of a divine ethic come to earth in Christ.
But even on a secular level, it provides the supreme objective criteria without which no moral center holds. Way beyond civic law’s minimum requirements for social order, like the Nuremberg Trials it appeals to basic givens of civilized human behavior. It is humanity’s dreams come true, a charter for joyous living, beyond all “thou shalt nots” or narrow arid laws (Mt 5:18).
As such it’s a prophetic rather than a law-based morality. It fulfills every jot and tittle of the old law, but in the spirit, not the letter. The apostles knew this in abandoning the more oppressive minute strictures of the Mosaic code. Like St. Paul does, the Sermon preaches a Christ gloriously beyond all oppressive aspects of the older law (JBC 641).
The Sermon then, as John Paul 11 says, is “the Magna Carta of Gospel morality”, replacing the commandments, “by interiorizing their demands and bringing out their fullest meaning” (26). For we are not people of law but the Spirit sent by Christ to energize his church forever. The Old Law is not false, it just lacks the full prophetic Messianic dimension. That’s why Christ stresses that his new way fulfils both the law and “the prophets”. One wonders why the church still stresses the ten commandments as the basis for Christian morality, when Christ obviously radically revises and completes them, and deliberately so (e.g.”it was said to you I the past thou shalt not kill, but I say to you..”). Indeed, stress on the commandments does not even reflect the full Old Testament Law, which had already been extended and revised in the psalms and writings of the prophets.
That is, as well as the old law interiorized and refined, the Sermon is the “just man” of the psalms and the “suffering servant” of the Prophets, the Messianic Kingdom they predicted come into being, a kingdom and covenant that includes but goes way beyond the old Mosaic one. Its heaven on earth, humanity and divinity made one in a new community that’s mainly embodied now in another people of God, the church. The Beatitudes are collectives; the “poor”, “the merciful”, “the peacemakers” etc. They represent the values of a visible Messianic church, and in its invisible dimensions, the church of all good people doing what’s right and true by the lights they also receive from God. As Vatican 11 says, the church’s role is to announce and extend these Kingdom values for universal happiness (17).
Much has been achieved of that task. We may think we live in a secular society but in fact its best aspects, what remains that’s Christian of modern culture, reflects the Sermon: stress on freedom, human rights, equality, fraternity, pursuit of happiness, world peace, justice, nurture of the earth etc. Everything that’s good in the world today echoes the Sermon, though we may not advert to the fact.
But there’s also much yet to be achieved, for divine wisdom, usually expressed in literary form, is never fully exhausted. Literary works are always holistic, but scriptural literature charts a deeper vision of human experience. The Sermon stretches our horizons, yet its basic principle is simple, purity within. It shows the human heart dispositions needed for a heaven on earth. This Kingdom within is set against the external righteousness of religious authorities of Jesus’s day: “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5: 20).
To make reflection on the Sermon more adequate, I use modern tools of structuralist poetics which are increasingly becoming, with reader theories, a new and fertile way of opening up the scriptures. I treat the Sermon as an “organic structure” of infinite connectivity.
Yet this is a study for everyone. It is a reflective literary reading that opens up for all people this perfect guide to a happy life. I provide charts for general use and treat the work as a great symphony with ever-expanding variations on a sublime theme. So the structure of this reading of the Sermon is as follows:
(1) a commentary on each part of the Sermon with scholarly input and illustrative charts; (2) instances of its universal applicability, with reference to the culture of today – modern stories, books, films, popular songs; and (3) Its relation to Jesus’s life, for as John Paul 11 says, the Sermon is Christ. It is his living heart laid bare before us. The key gospel phrase that sums up the Sermon is, in my view: “learn from me, for I am meek and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.
The Wisdom Structure of the Sermon
Because the heart has its logic too, there is a clear structure to the Sermon. Theologians vary in laying out this structure, and of course there are different versions in Luke and Matthew, so let me begin by charting the Sermon’s full structure in Matthew, which is the text I discuss:
The Plan of the Sermon
(1) The Eight Beatitudes with their apt varied blessings
The Beatitude The Blessing
Happy the poor Their’s is the Kingdom of Heaven
Happy the gentle They shall inherit the earth
Those who mourn They shall be comforted
Those who hunger They shall be satisfied
The merciful They shall have mercy shown them
The pure in heart They shall see God
The peacemakers.. They will be called children of God
Those persecuted for doing right Their’s is the Kingdom of Heaven
Persecuted on Christ’s account They will be great in Heaven
(2) The Motivational Basis for Living the Beatitudes
To be the Salt of the Earth
To be the Light of the world
To Fulfill the Old Divine Law
To build Christ’s new Kingdom
(3) The “More” of the Messianic Kingdom Way, six Antitheses:
“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”.
- Thou shalt not kill…but I say to you..
- You must not commit adultery….but I say to you..
- Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ..but I say..
- You must not break your oath…but I say to you…
- An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth..but I say..
- Love your neighbor but hate your enemy..but I say..
(4) Three Vital Spiritual Bases for Kingdom Morality
(A) Authentic charity for God in the form of the poor, almsgiving
(B) Authentic prayer, intimate communion with God
(C) The Our Father as the summary prayer of the Kingdom
(5) 12 Spiritual Paths towards the goal of Kingdom Morality Practicing Authentic Fasting
Building Treasure in Heaven by good works Having Visionary integrity
Putting God above money Trusting in providence
Judging no one harshly Respecting sacred things Practicing believing prayer Practicing the Golden Rule Following the Narrow way Practicing True Prophecy
Being a true Disciple of Christ
To sum up, the Beatitudes are the Sermon prologue and deal with the interior attitudes we need to be Kingdom people. Their structure is threefold, the blessing, the virtue, and the promise. The Blessing says those who practice the beatitude are happy, part of the Kingdom or ready for its reception. The virtue lists the key Kingdom attitudes: peace, mercy etc. The promise shows the rewards each virtue brings for this world and the next.
The motivational bases provide the reasons for living the beatitudes: to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, to fulfil the Old Law and build the Messianic Kingdom for universal fullness of happiness in the final reign of God and his Christ.
The antitheses outline this new morality in more detail. They are Prophetic rewritings of the Decalogue, mainly the final seven social commandments. They give the “more” of the Kingdom, a more challenging program for Christ’s new redeemed humanity.
The spiritual bases, coming at the heart of the Sermon, strip down the old law to the basics of love of God and neighbor. Love of God is shown as filial affection, right prayer, and worship summed up in the Our Father. Love of neighbor is shown as right-focused charity. As in the Gospel, the love we will be judged on is practical love of others in action: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat..etc”. Then at the heart of the Sermon comes its complete summary prayer, the Our Father. It is the central crescendo as it were of the Sermon symphony.
Scholars often see the 12 final exhortations as added pious practices. I see them as key spiritual activities for achieving the Way of life Christ outlines: authentic prayer, fasting, giving of alms, detachment from worldly greed, trusting in God through every trial etc. Their vital links with the beatitudes I chart as follows, related beatitudes and antitheses in parenthesis:
Authentic fasting and prayer (purity of heart, see God)
Building treasure in heaven (poor in spirit, gain the kingdom)
Visionary integrity (purity of heart, see God)
Serving God rather than money (poor in spirit, gain the kingdom)
Trusting in Providence (meek in spirit, gain the earth)
Not judging anyone (merciful, gaining God’s final mercy)
The golden rule (peacemakers, children of God)
The narrow way (those who mourn, shall be comforted)
True prophecy (thirsting for what is right, shall be satisfied)
Being a true disciple (practicing all the beatitudes, antitheses and paths)
The final crescendo of the whole symphony is the theme of true discipleship. Ultimately, the Sermon is a structure of inner righteousness leading to prophetic discipleship of Christ.
All in all the whole structure has a deep literary logic, like that of a great epic poem. The themes interrelate and reinforce each other in a cyclic dynamic. A great teacher, Christ reinforces the message in different ways, using varied devices. The main devices used are: significant balanced contradictions or antitheses; exaggerated paradoxes or oxymorons; metonymic associations that build to a complex crescendo e.g. the poor in spirit, the mourners, the merciful, the peacemakers to represent key followers of the new Kingdom (as we would say the White House to represent the American presidency); hyperbole, as in the exaggerated plucking out of one’s eye if gives scandal; rich metaphoric antithetical patterns, e.g. the Kingdom metaphorically equated with entering in at the narrow gate as against the opposite way of the world metaphorically equated with entering in at the broad gate.
Rhetorical devices relate the Sermon to people’s experience, for this is a speech addressed to a crowd representing both disciples and humanity. It’s discourse teaches us in the attractive literary way of scriptures worldwide. It’s the all-wise discourse of Christ, God’s teacher of his human children. My charts should make these methods and teachings clearer for teachers.
But the structure also puts flesh on the bones of Old Testament morality. Older wisdom and worship works form a series of associations in the background, e.g. the psalms and prophets. Psalm 112 virtually summarizes the whole of the beatitudes, the antitheses, the paths, and indeed the whole plan of the Sermon:
Happy the man who fears the Lord
By joyfully keeping his commandments..
For the upright he shines like a lamp in the dark, He is merciful, tender hearted, virtuous.
Interest is not charged by this good man,
He is honest in all his dealings….
Quick to be generous, he gives to the poor, His righteousness can never change..
So the whole Sermon includes the old and the new, the present and the eternal world as one organic whole, as well as Christ and His Kingdom come as the supreme model for happy human living.
But though this is his new “commandments” for the new people of God, also given on a mountain, Christ injunctions have several radical differences from the laws given by Moses. Christ claims a higher authority than Moses by his repeated phraseology: “it was said to you in the past..but I say to you”. The structure of the whole forms a radical revision of the law in prophetic terms. For it is not just the law but “the law and the prophets” he revises.
So the approach is more positive than the old law. Christ has no “thou shalt nots”. It’s not about law and punishment, but about the ways of life that lead to human happiness here and hereafter. The center of the whole is the pure heart within, not any imposed law under threat of punishment; Christ says do this and you’ll be happy
That’s why the Our Father is at the heart of The Sermon. It invokes the One who presides over this new moral house as a loving Father or Mother with their children. We enter into the blessedness of his or her divine life in right joyful living. It’s the perfect prayer of Christ’s new morality as inner spirituality. It says everything we need to say as his family. It is joyful moral living become prayerful family spirituality. It asks a gentle loving father to guide his children well. So it is a familial rather than a legal document, just as the true church is really God’s beloved family, not an institution ruled by coercion.
Hence the Pope is “holy father”, Mary is a mother, and the church is the mother of the faithful. Vatican 11’s sense of the church as the “Family” of God is also the definition of the new Messianic community that emerges in the Sermon. Its overall sense is of the happiness of living as part of God’s family in Christ, with God as our father, and the Our Father as our prayer.
Finally, the ultimate structure of the Sermon is the Kingdom promise of the Messiah fulfilled in Christ. He is the “suffering servant” of Isaiah, who is meek, just and humble, a “man of sorrows and familiar with suffering” without looks or anything to attract our gaze. So the poverty of spirit, the meekness, and indeed all the beatitudes, are about child-like love of God and others in imitation of Christ in the flesh (incarnation theology). The inference in the Sermon is that Christians should be humble servants of God and others like Christ so as to rise with him. We’re to redeem the world as the loving family of Christ permeating the world with his gentle saving values. The Sermon shows us how to do that.
The First Beatitude, Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
The beatitudes have a triple focus: (1) right relationship with God makes us part of His Kingdom; (2) purity within from God leads to right relationship with others; and (3) right relations with others in God leads to working to transform the world into his just Kingdom: “let your light shine before men, so that seeing your good works they may give glory to your Father in heaven”.
So the Sermon is not about faith alone but faith issuing in active justice and charity. It’s in that family spirit of the Our Father, of being his sons and daughters in spirit and in truth that the Sermon begins: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for their’s is the Kingdom of Heaven”. The poor here are those who know their need for God. They place themselves in the hands of the Father with complete humble trust. As Meier notes:
This beatitude harks back to the OT figure of the poor, the anawim, people who realize their own fragility and the illusory nature of human support, and who therefore look to Yahweh alone for safety. Yahweh’s concern for the poor, the humble and the contrite of spirit is extolled in the prophets (Is 57:15, 66,2), psalms (34:18), and wisdom literature (Prov 16:19, 29:23)…The poor in spirit are those who bow humbly before God in total trust, who are willing to await everything at God’s hand. They have seen through the false promise of wealth. As in each of the beatitudes, Jesus’s declaration of happiness makes these people happy right now. He gives them unshakable assurance that the future Kingdom is already their possession” (40)
Most ordinary people, not aware of these associations, might say we don’t see any value in poverty. Read aright, in the scriptural context Christ was evoking, that’s exactly what the beatitude says. It doesn’t praise material poverty, but only those “poor in spirit”. It says that the cure for poverty in the world is if those who cause it become totally free from greed.
So, with the blessing and the promise, there are the three dimensions to this beatitude: (1) humble trust in God rather than riches; (2) detachment from greed leading to right relations with others; and (3) active work to liberate the poor.
Christ says that those poor in spirit, within their core are happy, just as one might say a person is happy when his problems are gone. The problems solved here are the emptiness of the soul without God, the inner slavery of greed, and the inner pain due to poverty and oppression around us. When the Kingdom of Heaven comes to fruition in all hearts, all that human suffering will be eliminated, turned to blessedness.
But firstly, we have to be poor enough within to know our need for God. We open our hearts to God not out of duty but need and love. This sense of emptiness without God is very universal. It’s is the attitude we find throughout the psalms: “I trusted even when I said I am sorely afflicted, when I said in my alarm no man can be trusted” (114:5-6;115;10-11,15-16); it leads to joyful righteousness. The opposite greedy arrogance of the wicked, egotistical pride, needs neither God nor man, and leads to doom.
This Old Testament contrast is clear in the chart below, though we must avoid rigid dualism. There are many shades in between; many who do not believe in God can be kind, just, and peaceful. Many religious people can be rooted in institutional pride as with many aspects of the official church down the ages. The key concept in the beatitude, however, is to humbly know our need for God at the deepest level, so that we can live an integral life in his power. For, due to our basic freedom, He can give us nothing unless we ask, even Himself:
The arrogant in Spirit The poor in Spirit
(Satan, the godless) (Christ/Mary/The Saints)
haughty, oppressive joyful in faith, trusting even in suffering
self-centered, dominating, steadfast in affliction, kind, peaceful,
corrupt, despising the good living in integrity, honoring all
lording it over the weak identifying with and aiding the poor
Nazi Supermen, power as God Christ-like servers of humanity
The second group, those who cling in need to God are like the “suffering servants” of Isaiah’s oracles. They are Christ on the cross, resisting all efforts of “the wicked” to destroy his faith. They are summed up in the humble steadfast believer of psalm 22:
Yet here am I, a worm and no man, Scorn of mankind, jest of the people. All who see me jeer at me,
They toss their heads and sneer,
“He relied on God, let God save him!”.
Yet this first aspect of the beatitude, humbly knowing our need for God, however we conceive of Him, and clinging Him in every storm to deliver us from evil, is also universal. It’s seen in the search for and worship of God everywhere, even in primitive tribes. Like the American Indians before the coming of the colonists. They looked to the “Great Spirit” to express their own sense of spiritual need. They saw justice, truth and beauty as inherent in his creation and in their own consciences. There is a famous speech of an Indian chief, addressed to white missionaries, where he says that his faith already has more than they offer. He saw their false puritan faith as harsh law, something they offered as a tool of dominating colonialism.
For true Christians the Deity all thirst for is revealed in the gentle Christ, the universal liberator and pointer to moral happiness and spiritual fullness on the Mount. He fills the void that is all people’s inner need for God. So the beatitude invites us to set aside arrogant self-sufficient pride; even in suffering to humbly cling to God and that church where he is to be found.
Secondly, poverty of spirit involves detachment from enslaving possessiveness. Later aspects of the Sermon develop this in more detail: “you cannot serve god and money”, “lay up treasures for yourself in heaven where thieves do not break in and steal”. The foolishness of total trust in riches, rather than God, is shown. But there is more than this to the beatitude.
Christ asks detachment from greed not only for our spiritual freedom, but for right relationships with others. For the root of human violence and division is the grasping heart. The opposite just kingdom comes in our freedom from hard covetousness; it is the universal path to personal, communal and world justice.
Moreover, when we know our need for God and are free from possessiveness with His help, we are free enough to identify with the poor, the deprived materially or spiritually. So the beatitude articulates a social view founded not on limited human vision but on God’s impartial justice. He loves the poor, so should we. A persistent theme in the Old Testament, Jesus revises this for His new covenant people. But it is also a universal view. All in their right minds and hearts want universal justice, not the harsh rule of wealthy, proud and powerful oppressors. Christ just clarifies this theme pervasive in the Old Testament, and makes it more radical. For the thirst for a just and equal world without poverty and oppression and corruption, is the Godly thirst found in all the prophets, and is the almost exclusive focus of such as Amos (2:6-7):
For the three crimes, the four crimes of Israel I have made my decree and will not relent: Because they have sold the virtuous man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals, Because they trample on the heads of ordinary people and push the poor out of their path..
The “they” here are the opposite of the community of the poor in spirit. Avaricious within, “they” pursue wealth regardless of God or man. There is always a “they” in that sense in society. Today, I suppose, one example of this “they” are ruthless global capitalists. Christ asks us to be rather humble gentle people, loving God, detached from worship of money, committed to communal justice; open to God in the cries of the poor, non-covetous, just and caring; serving the needy without calling attention to ourselves. In effect, Christians must build a just world where they are.
But the thirst for a just world is already there for us to work on, in ordinary people’s hearts everywhere who hate oppression by the wealthy, probably most of humanity; for example, socialist politicians worldwide. Like them, Christ says it’s not good to be the poor, though God takes your part. Or to be oppressed women, though God endorses your struggle and ensures your heavenly vindication. All should work to liberate the poor and oppressed whoever they are, and start with liberating their own hearts from greed. If all do this the justice of the Kingdom of God will come to earth; it will take root and flourish in all the countries of the world where is lacking.
So we might read a further requirement into this beatitude, international justice. There is political message here too, the Kingdom of God is different from the more ruthless kingdoms of the world, but it is what we should aim for. Hence Christ’s reply to Pilate who represented cruel Roman rule in the Holy land, “my kingdom is not that of this world”.
He says the same to rulers today, “be part of the poor in spirit, of a Kingdom which is not of this world’s power-hungry and military ruthlessness”. The JBC notes that Bismarck said: “you cannot govern with the Sermon” (640). One can understand how the harsh Prussian militaristic ruler might find this aspect of the Sermon unacceptable. Modern democratic models of humble accountable leadership are nearer to its political ideal. This is why so many peoples seek such free models today. They want and fight for elected leaders who serve the people with humility and integrity, whose concern for the poor and vulnerable promotes real social welfare, like Obama did in promoting health care for all in the USA, or the demonstrators of the Arab Spring did in freeing the people from self-serving dictators and their totalitarian systems. So this is a code for good government too: I chart its international implications:
Nations Poor in Spirit
Have special care for the poor and vulnerable
Ensure equal sharing of resources and those of the earth, Promote racial and gender equality,
Ensure equal human rights for all.
Promote a responsible stewarding of nature.
Finally, we have the promise or reward or higher motivation for all such justice in the individual heart, societies everywhere, and political systems. Those poor in heart will be part of the Kingdom of Heaven, they will bring about a heaven on earth as it were, the Messianic Kingdom come, and they will enter that Kingdom forever in heaven. So the eschatological promise is also part of the beatitude’s total moral motivation and vision.
The First Beatitude’s relevance for Today
Some might say that this beatitude seems over idealistic? Yet it’s what religious and non-religious alike aspire to, at local and international level; we will achieve nothing unless we have this ideal as our aim. Hence universal justice and equality were the catch cries of the French and American revolutions. Feminists and liberation theologians today also see this first beatitude as giving Divine authority to their struggle on behalf of oppressed individuals, nations, and women. They note the teaching’s universal basis in the equality and shared dignity of all people as God’s children. This is good news for subordinated women, oppressed workers, travellers, migrants etc.
The Charter of Human Rights is another living example of this beatitude’s universal validity. But human rights can only come about if all recognize their rightness in their hearts and work to implement them in practice. Marx saw nothing in civil rights movements in our age except selfish capitalist individualism, the stress on “my” rights, “my” freedom rather than communal concern. Any purely narcissistic spirituality or morality is not what Christ is about. The beatitudes are a mandate for a community of active caring humanity. Similarly, as regards religious institutions Christ demands an active church for the poor, beyond mere self-interest.
As such the Sermon is good news for all oppressed people. But ultimately only if rulers and everyone else are poor enough in heart to do what it asks. We require not only an ideology of justice, but a spirituality of heart that drives us to action. Without this basis in active will as well as aspiration, liberation idealism may be just empty words. We cannot do it fully without God’s help. That’s why Christ not only gives the spiritual bases for such a moral, just and integral world, the kingdom come, but also enables it at the deepest level as divine Lord and Savior through his saving grace among all dedicated just people.
The history of our era should show us how vital this beatitude is. For the greatest scourge of the Twentieth century, Fascism, was the exact opposite. It was based on Nietzsche’s rejection of God and Christian morality which he said shored up the values of the “weak” (see his works on “The Death of God”, “The Will to Power”, and “Beyond Good and Evil”). Look at the havoc this opposite view wrecked: wholesale genocide; the creed of the super race crushing all weaker races; the cult of might is right. When I think of the consequences of this, I think of that book, The Diary of Ann Frank, an example of the tyranny that worldly greed and power lust produces. Yet such philosophies still shape many today.
Christ’s challenge to the rich young man is still relevant. The…
(Please stay tuned for more)