³Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. ⁴Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. ⁵Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth. ⁶Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
We have a lot of sayings about words. They ‘butter no parsnips’ or unlike sticks and stones they apparently can’t ‘harm us’.
But the question of the day is can they change us?
A few months ago, I heard words that could change the world.
They were repeated just last month at Davos. For Greta Thunberg said that she should be in school except she was now on the other side of the Atlantic addressing, at the United Nations. She then made clear all of youths’ displeasure at the lack of action over climate change. She expressed her ire at the leaders who were stealing her future. Then she finished famously by demanding – ‘how dare you?’
These words were spoken to a few but have resonated around the globe echoing the lost dreams of childhood in an unsustainable planet. Yet there is still time, for these words to bring real change through teaching, preaching and healing.
Christ too was called to the same mission of teaching, preaching and healing. Nevertheless, against the incandescent anger of Greta, his beatitudes seem tame in comparison. However, over the millennia, they too have changed the world profoundly.
They have it by changing people’s perceptions of situations.
Let us takes the first beatitudes as examples.
For the first group of four beatitudes which hark back to Isaiah 61 reflect difficult or oppressive situations people can find themselves within. What our English translations miss is the alliterative use of the letter p in the Greek. So, these verses might be better translated as:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…
Blessed are the plaintive…
Blessed are the powerless…
Blessed are the those who pine for righteousness…”
Therefore, in each of these situations, the beatitudes talk about a reversal of fortune. In fact, they express the promise that God will give honour to people in desperate situations.
Perhaps then we need to read and reread these rules and use them to guide our own teaching, preaching and healing. May we these modes of behaviour permeate our very being so that every word we utter will reverse oppressive situations and restore hope to the those who have lost their dreams. May these beatitudes be traditions of our thinking and behaviour so as to build a community of all the earth.
Above even these, may the alliteration contained within their lines be like a drip-feed of encouragement, inspiration and courage to know that we can change the world; that we indeed can allow good to extinguish evil.
There was once a town in Poland that had very good rail links. It was called Oswiecim. A few days ago, the planet’s great and good mustered there. Of course, we know it by its infamous German name of Auschwitz. But the most remarkable human beings present wore white and blue striped scarves. They were the Holocaust survivors. Surely no more worthy group deserved the fruits of the beatitudes. No greater group has proved that life will defeat death. No better life heroes can make all of us contemplate the plight of the poor, the powerless and the plaintiffs for justice. For theirs indeed is the Kingdom of God.
In fact, it is a Jewish story that the only question that God will have for us on our arrival in heaven is – how did you enjoy my earth?
Now Jesus was born a Jew, lived as a Jew and died a Jew.
And so, the point is that Jesus in the beatitudes was not talking of some mythical time when the beatitudes could be fulfilled. Rather, he was saying follow them with all your hearts and minds and souls and their world can be here and now.
The oppressed can beliberated to freedom.
The grieving can be consoled with hope.
And righteousness can make the planet a beautiful place to live life to the fullest.
Oh, and what shall we call this perfected earth? Oh, why not just – Heaven.
Now, let’s bring it near!