Embrace a new way of being blessed

By Vinal Van Benthem | For The Compass | January 25, 2017

The Beatitudes — probably no words in religious literature are more beloved. But have you ever really thought about what Jesus was actually saying? Do you honestly want to be blessed if it means that you must first be “… poor in spirit … mourn[ing] … meek … hungry and thirsty for righteousness … merciful … clean of heart … peacemakers … persecuted … insult[ed] …” (Mt 5:1-12a)?

Certainly, college courses on assertiveness and getting ahead are much easier to find than courses on meekness and righteousness; and society’s current focus on bullying attests to the fact that bullies often prey on the merciful, especially if they know that they won’t fight back. Add to that the fact that many TV sitcoms depend on what would once have been called “adults only” material; and if you want to be insulted and persecuted, speaking out for peace is one way to get what you pray for.

But we do love the image, don’t we? We can almost see Jesus up there on the mountain, sitting on the grass with his disciples, crowds of people gathered around. He obviously cares a great deal about the people he is speaking to. But if Jesus loves all these people so much, why doesn’t he give them better advice? Why doesn’t he tell them to stand up for themselves rather than to turn the other cheek? Everyone knows that the meek risk being taken advantage of by the strong, don’t they?

And what about all the other blessed? How is this hunger for righteousness to be satisfied? How can being merciful bring about justice? Could purity of heart actually equal clarity of vision? Precisely what kind of blessings are these? What kind of reward is Jesus talking about?

Maybe we need to rethink the image. Maybe, instead of a tranquil Jesus speaking comforting words, what we should be picturing is an animated Jesus encouraging his followers to embrace a new way of being blessed and gifted. Try this. Picture yourself sitting on the mountain, part of the crowd. Jesus turns and speaks directly to you. “Blessed are you … for your reward will be great.” What do you hear him saying? What does he ask of you? What blessing does he promise?

Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the Diocese of Green Bay.

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