The Gospel for January 29th, 2017: “The Beatitudes”
Reflection: There is Hope in Beauty
Readers of the Sermon on the Mount can read the list of beatitudes as keys to happiness. In other words, be meek, righteous, merciful, clean of heart, and peaceful and eventually happiness will bless you, even if only in Heaven. Similarly, they can be read as a prescription for holiness. Live virtuously and heaven will be yours. This second interpretation encompasses the list more fully than the first. If the only concern is heaven, and not necessarily happiness, then those who endure poverty, tragedy, and persecution while living a virtuous life will be assured Heaven. However, both readings seem lacking. Even though in both cases Heaven and happiness are joined by the line “Rejoice and be glad, for you reward will be great in heaven” (12), such a state of affairs can seem distant for the person struggling in this life and not the cause for hope that I think the word of the Lord should be.
I prefer to read this passage more poetically. Rather than a prescription, I like it better as description of God’s justice, and as a corollary, His mercy. Every item on this list describes a justice that is so divine and glorious, that all sinners should have cause for hope for a Heaven that is free from the pain and suffering of a fallen world. It should be clear to all of us that despite our best intentions and efforts, we are not capable of creating the perfect justice described by the beatitudes. How often in our world do the mournful receive inadequate comfort, are the meek dispossessed and exploited by the strong, and are the peacemakers labeled as foolish or unpatriotic, even though laws exist, at least in the first world, to protect all of them?
The lack of punishments mentioned by the beatitudes suggests to me that Jesus is not trying to promote a better system of temporal justice with this sermon. Instead, he is describing the absolute beauty of God’s justice and mercy to fan the flames of faith, in a way that the justice of the world simply cannot. Yes, as Christians we should aspire to a righteous life marked by this perfect justice and mercy for all our fellow humanity. But we must never become discouraged when we, both individually and collectively, fall short of this. We are sinners who need saving. Jesus’ sermon demonstrates absolute certainty that He will provide the grace necessary to usher in His divine justice for all and freedom from sin. The happiness will be abundant then.
The beatitudes are a cause for hope. Any prescriptive value we attach to this sermon should only be interpreted as a call to participate as best we can in their beautiful justice in this life, so that we may bring all of humanity to God’s altar of justice and mercy. We cannot justify humanity on our own. But we were created by a God who has wanted nothing more for us from the beginning. We are invited, inspired, and without force compelled to simply participate in the beauty of His salvation plan. Oh, hopeful day!