Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Unwanted Beatitude

How many times have any of us heard the beatitudes? They are read at weddings and funerals. The are printed on plaques and posters. Whether it is Luke's more concrete "Blessed are the poor" or Matthew's more abstract "Blessed are the poor in spirit", we just like the idea of being "blessed." But both Matthew and Luke include one category that we would just as soon forget, and we try not to spend much time thinking about.

In Matthew it reads,

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.

In Luke it reads,

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.

How many times and in how many ways does Jesus have to tell us that suffering is an essential part of human existence, and Christian existence in particular before we get it? Not that we are supposed to be masochistic. We do not have to go looking for it. But we cannot avoid it. We can not run away from it. We cannot pray it away, anymore than Jesus prayed away his crucifixion.

What Jesus did in the garden was provide us with the model. He taught us that the prayer is not to avoid the suffering, but to give us the strength to get through, and to transform it and us.  

The beatitudes are not a menu from which we are free to select the blessedness we would prefer. They are a constant reminder of the paradoxical nature of our faith. They remind us that we live simultaneously on the plain we can see, and on another plain beyond our full comprehension, a plain that at present we can only glimpse.  

Each day we must freely choose to embrace whichever beatitude life presents us. Always and everywhere we give thanks to God, because we know that even in our weeping God is there, in our humiliation God is there, in our poverty of spirit God is there. And everywhere God is, his transforming grace is at work.