January 30, 2011
Matthew 5: 1-12a
Every human group or organization tries to attract new members, and often in this effort they will employ a slogan or a motto that helps identify who they are and why people would want to join them. The Marines are good at this. Over the last number of decades they have come up with a number of memorable slogans: “We’re looking for a few good men,” or, more recently, “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” In these few words you can catch the sense of who the Marines are: a select group (not everyone can join), a proud group, and a group committed to accomplishing things. Religious communities have also come up with slogans to attract members. The Franciscans recently have adopted this one: “Clothed in prayer, community, and service.” You can see by this slogan that this is a faith community dedicated to shared living and the commitment to others.
It would be helpful to us to keep this idea of slogans or mottoes in mind as we hear today’s Gospel, because today’s Gospel is the beginning of Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount. Matthew begins this sermon by giving us a series of sayings which summarize what Jesus’ mission is about and what those who might want to follow him should expect. Now these sayings are not slogans. They are beatitudes. But beatitudes and slogans share the ability in a few short words to nail down the heart of the matter and what is really important. This is the way that the Beatitudes of Jesus have been seen throughout the centuries. People as diverse as Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy and Dietrich Bonhoeffer have all understood the Beatitudes of Jesus as the central core of his teaching and the most important part of his message.
So what do the Beatitudes tell us. They tell us how God sees the world. God sees as blessed those who are poor. God sees as valuable those who mourn, those who are lonely, those who are persecuted. The Beatitudes reveal that God is committed to those who are in need and those who suffer. It is because God is present to them, they are blessed. The Beatitudes do not say that it is a blessed or wonderful thing to be poor, or to be grieving, or to be persecuted. They do assert that whenever any of these distressful things happen to us, God comes to us. God is attracted to us because God knows our needs. Because God is present in those distressful circumstances, those who are distressed are blessed. If God is with them, God will lead those who suffer to a better place: those who mourn will be comforted; those that are lowly will inherit the land; those who are poor or persecuted will rejoice in the kingdom.
So this is the God that the Beatitudes reveal to us: a God who lifts up the lowly, who cares for the poor, who stands with the oppressed. It is this vision of who God is that stands at the center of Jesus’ ministry and forms the heart of Jesus’ teaching. There are two distinct and immediate consequences that flow from this God of the Beatitudes, two things which those who follow Christ must adopt: hope and solidarity. To be a disciple of Jesus, we must be a people of hope. Because we know that when we are poor, when we are grieving, when we feel rejected or worthless or in need, God comes to us. We believe this because we know that God is close to those who are poor or in need. We believe in a God who comes to us in our struggles, a God who is with us and leads us to a place of fullness and joy. Those who follow Jesus must be people of hope because God cares for us in our need. We must also be people of solidarity, solidarity with the poor and oppressed. If God is close to those who struggle, if God is close to those who are persecuted or in need, we must act towards them in the same way. We cannot worship God and ignore those for whom God cares. We must as followers of Jesus be people who are committed to eliminating poverty and injustice and oppression because those are the very things that our God is also committed to eliminate.
The Beatitudes summarize what Jesus is about and who those who follow Jesus must be. The Marines are looking for a few good men. Jesus is looking for as many people as possible who will see the world as God sees it and therefore be people of hope and solidarity.