The Beatitudes, for some, are a treasure trove of biblical wisdom. For others, who find life sorrowfully replete with complexity and difficulty, maddeningly simplistic and, at best, confusing. For still others, who labor for change, actively doing good in the world, utterly nonsensical. Whatever your view, I offer this one-act play (a recreation of a recent monthly liturgy planning meeting at St. Mark’s Church, Capitol Hill, in preparation for the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, November 2).
Loretta: I love this passage!
Jan: Me, too!
Loretta: At first glance, it doesn’t make much sense. How can being poor in spirit be a blessing?
Jan: It was even more confusing when I looked up the Greek. The word, makárioi, translated “blessed” also can mean “happy.” When I’m mourning, I’m definitely not happy!
Loretta: Like I said, it seems like nonsense. But the more I think about it, the more I consider the source.
Jan: That always means I have to look more closely.
Paul: And what do you see?
Jan: Well, it’s even stranger when I look at the context. When I read the end of Matthew, chapter four, it says Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching and preaching about the kingdom, and healing every disease among the people. Word spread and people from everywhere with all kinds of illnesses came to Jesus. Chapter five begins with Jesus seeing this large crowd, all coming for help. And what does he do? He sits down and talks!
Paul: I noticed that, too. Seems a bit off point. Hardly a spot-on response to human need.
Loretta: I felt that, too. When I’m sick, I want healing, at least some sort of help, not just words.
Paul: Amen to that! So, where does that leave us?
Jan: I think Jesus is saying there always will be trials and tribulations in life and how one faces them matters.
Paul: What’s the how?
Jan: Seeking God. When I’m poor in spirit, I’ve exhausted all my options. There’s nothing else I can do. Or maybe I always know inevitably there’s nothing I can do because even before I exhaust all my options, I know eventually I will. Now, when I compare Matthew to Luke’s Beatitudes, Luke begins with being poor. Period. Matthew spiritualizes poverty, making it less about my physical being and more about the state of my soul.
Loretta: I see that, too. When I’m up against it, when life brings me low and I can’t help myself, if I turn to God, and it all begins with that, then God comforts me when I’m mourning and fills me when I hunger for righteousness. It’s all about being in right relationship with God.
Jan: And that, right relationship with God, is why the Beatitudes are called “the Charter of the Christian Life.”
Paul: Interesting, but I notice we skipped over being meek. Randy, you’ve been oddly silent. You usually have lots to say. What do you think?
Randy: I may be quiet, but I’m screaming inside. None of this makes any sense to me! No matter how I look at it! First of all, the promises of comfort, being filled, et cetera point to the future. The blessings will happen. Back to your point, Loretta, when you’re sick, you want healing. Me, too. Now! Not later.
Jan: But Randy, I also talked about life’s struggles. We’ll always have them and sometimes, sadly, there is no healing or that it comes only at death when I’m free from all my suffering.
Randy: I believe that, but honestly it doesn’t keep me from wanting the blessings now.
Jan: Nor I.
Paul: What else, Randy? I know you’ve got more to say.
Randy: Take being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” I’ve done enough human rights work to know that the persecuted usually end up jailed, tortured, or in a grave. That reality alone makes following Jesus, who seems to be saying, “don’t worry, be happy and it’ll all work out in the end,” a fool’s errand.
Paul: Fair enough. Following Jesus isn’t a proposition for the faint-hearted and maybe being a little crazy helps! But let me offer another view.
Randy: Go ahead. Convince me.
Paul: I won’t try to do that. I only suggest another way to look at it. I want to go back to being meek.
Randy: Ha! That’s another point. The Beatitudes, with the possible exception of peacemaking, aren’t very action-oriented. Jesus advocates that we just sit around, even lie down and be a doormat, and wait.
Paul: Ah, here I must disagree. Meek is translated from the Greek, praeis. In ancient thought, a virtue was described as the mean point between two extremes. And meekness was understood as that point between always being angry about everything and never being angry about anything.
Jan: Meekness is about anger?
Loretta: I see! It’s about having the right kind of anger. As it’s Jesus talking, it’s about being angry about the things that make God angry.
Jan: Like poverty or hunger…
Loretta: Or homelessness…
Randy: Or any injustice! And then, doing something!