Thursday, May 5, 2011

Changing the currency you're working for

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven,
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled,
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so also they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

So back to the question I started with; is it prescriptive or descriptive? A bit of both. I think Jesus is saying, first of all, you need to change the “currency you’re working for”. Then all these things I am about to say about the kingdom will make sense, because a lot of times they might lead you to being stepped on, persecuted, merciful, a peacemaker etc where your worldly value system might say, that is not an intelligent thing to do. So the direction isn’t, “Mourn!” it’s, “Follow Me, even when it leads you into mourning, and trust me you’ll be glad you did, cause that’s how you get the really good stuff.”

Then of course the question is, as it always is for me with the Kingdom of Heaven, “When?” Is this after death, when all safe and blessed, we shall meet at last? Or while it’s happening? The language suggests both, interestingly. Blessed ARE those who mourn, for they SHALL be comforted. Not sure what to make of this; the fact of being blessed is in the present, while the reason is in the future. I guess that makes sense, when you think of it in the way of, “Blessed are those who work, for they shall get paid and be able to eat.” Your job may be pointless and you may hate your work at the moment, and you might not get paid till the end of the month. But you wouldn’t want to not work, or consider that your work wasn’t a blessing, because you know the direct link between working and getting paid. And I mean, it’s one thing if the payment you’re looking forward to is so small you can barely feed yourself. But here the blessings are so extravagant! Be comforted! Be filled! Inherit the earth! Have stake in the Kingdom of Heaven! SEE GOD!!

That said, I think the payday metaphor is a little simplistic, and makes the beatitudes prescriptive again and the kingdom of heaven something we can earn. I don’t think they can be reduced in this way. But again, the prescription isn’t to mourn, it’s to follow Jesus, and know that by his mercy and power everything that comes along with it will become a blessing. Favorite WH Auden line,

“He is the Life/ Love Him in the World of the Flesh/ And at your marriage, all its occasions will dance for joy.”

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