My last blog promised that it would give instruction for using the blessings of Jesus, (Matthew 5) as a spiritual discipline. Instead it gave further reflections on the second blessing:

Happiness for those who grieve:

they will be comforted.

In this blog I want to make good my original promise.

1. Look at the list of blessings and focus on one that might be relevant to your life now.

Jesus said:

Happiness for those who want no power over others:

The rule of heaven belongs to them

Happiness for those who grieve:

they will be comforted.

Happiness for the gentle:

they will possess the Land.

Happiness for those who hunger and thirst for justice:

they will be satisfied.

Happiness for those who show mercy:

mercy will be shown to them.

Happiness for those who have clean hearts:

they will see God.

Happiness for the peacemakers:

they will be called God’s children.

Happiness for those persecuted in the cause of good:

the rule of heaven belongs to them.

Happiness for you, when they hurt you and persecute you and slander you for my sake,

Be full of joy and delight,

Because the reward which awaits you in heaven is huge.

For in the same way they persecuted your ancestors, the prophets.

For example, if I am conscious of a situation in which I want no power or am trying to exert power over someone, I might select the first blessing.

2. Make clear its connnection with your life.

A) If the connection with your own life is positive, seek out the happiness promised by Jesus. Note down instances of that happiness. in this case, for example, I might note:

What a relief it is not to be planning how to gain an advantage

How good it is to enjoy the other person as a person and not a means to my ends

How decisions become clearer if I have no hidden motives

How I become better at noticing those who want power over me

How I an able to share in fruitful partnership with this person and others.

B) If the connection is at odds with you, obviously,  you cannot claim the blessing for yourself immediately, but rather look at the unhappiness you are expressing or creating.

What sort of power do I want over this person?

What words and actions have expressed this desire?

Why do  I want this power?

What effect have I had on the other person?

Have I been cloaking my desire for power under an appearance of assistance or affection or religious zeal?

In view of all this unhappiness, ask: Would I not like just to give up this desire for power?

3. If you can answer yes to that question, or even if you’re not sure, go back to 2 (A) and look clearly at the advantages of renouncing power. Feel even in imagination the promised happiness, till you become sure that giving up power over others is not a sacrifice but a pleasure.

4. Remind yourself that this is the way God rules, not by power over the universe but by persuasion. The freedom enjoyed by creation and creatures right down to the movement of atomic particles is due to God’s renunciation of power. This also evident in the life, suffering death and resurrection of Jesus. The depiction of God as all powerful is a mistake based on the image of earthly rulers. When I give up power over others I open myself to the rule of God.

5. And that’s just as well, for I need to recognise that when I desire power over others I am open to being ruled by worldly powers of greed, oppression and violence. The happiness of wanting no power gives me freedom from them. Recognise and value this freedom

6. Finally, if your reflection on this blessing reminds you that you are a victim of someone or of many people who desire power, then it should remind you that Jesus and you are fellow victims in this regard. Think of his life story and his teaching as communicating “the intelligence of the victim”, some of which you know at first hand. This will give you courage to remain opposed to oppressive power without desiring it for yourself.

7. You will realise that your refusal of power over others is itself a kind of power, the power to persuade, share and enable, to suffer and to endure, which we naturally label as Christlike.

I hope these instructions which are the fruit of my own real failures and tentative successes are useful to someone else, but first of all they are meant for myself.

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I’ve been thinking about each of these blessings of Jesus, with the promise that I would suggest how to use them as a spiritual discipline.

Jesus said:

Happiness for those who want no power over others:

The rule of heaven belongs to them

Happiness for those who grieve:

they will be comforted.

Happiness for the gentle:

they will possess the Land.

Happiness for those who hunger and thirst for justice:

they will be satisfied.

Happiness for those who show mercy:

mercy will be shown to them.

Happiness for those who have clean hearts:

they will see God.

Happiness for the peacemakers:

they will be called God’s children.

Happiness for those persecuted in the cause of good:

the rule of heaven belongs to them.

Happiness for you, when they hurt you and persecute you and slander you for my sake,

Be full of joy and delight

Because the reward which awaits you in heaven is huge.

For in the same way they persecuted your ancestors, the prophets.

Firstly, how can I think that any of these blessings applies to me? I’m not a spectacularly bad person, but nor am I sufficiently good to describe myself as merciful, or gentle, or a peacemaker, especially if these terms designate character traits that last over time.  Doubtless Jesus hoped that they might become traits of character, but he offered them to disciples whom he knew to be flaky at times. We can conclude therefore that he did not intend them only for those who are settled in virtue.

Perhaps I can show how they can apply to me, if I take first the one that doesn’t look like a virtue:

happiness for those who grieve:

For they will be comforted.

If I really grieve, the truth of my sorrow links me with all who grieve even if the cause of my grief is different from theirs; no true grief is selfish but is open to being shared even if an actual act of sharing does not take place; shared grieving is one of the fundamental conditions of humanity. I can be reminded of this even when my own life is comparatively fortunate, if I open myself to another’s grief. In the recognition that bad things happen to all and bad things are done and said by all (except the great saints), there is a humour and a happiness that superficial people never know. It is a blessing of tears which promises a time when all tears will be wiped away. It is the happiness of those who grieve and can be discovered by honesty about my own suffering and openness to the suffering of others. Jesus’ blessing directs me towards this honesty and this openness.

But really? Where can any promise of ultimate comfort come from, and without it, can human sharing of grief in any way match the vast and varied history of suffering? Goya looked closely at suffering in his etchings, “The disasters of war” which emphasise that there is no comfort, no possible redemption, as in this one which he entitled, “no hay quien los socorra” – there is no one to rescue them.

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Are there any words which can assuage this man’s terrible grief? I’m inclined to say no, but then there is the evidence of the etching itself: another man has seen, and entered into it and borne witness with all his skill to this suffering, in such a way that his desire to share the burden of this poor man is not incredible. And if we could write the same words below an etching of the crucifixion, we might be able to see it as an image of God’s desire to share the burden of those whom no one has rescued. This identification of God with the grieving Jesus is itself resurrection, new life, tears washed away, happiness for all who mourn.

Whether the suffering is heavy or light, Jesus’ blessing invites the laughter of God’s rescue which is to come. I have particularly recognised this in moments when I am grieving my unworthiness for any of the other blessings of Jesus: even this grief, if it is genuine, can allow me to enter the place of shared humanity and shared happiness.

When I’m using the blessings as a spiritual discipline, therefore, I always start with this one, because the grief it blesses is always with me.

 

 

This blog brings me to the final blessing of Jesus recorded at the beginning of Matthew chapter 5:

“Happiness for you, when they hurt you and persecute you and slander you for my sake,

Be full of joy and delight

Because the reward which awaits you in heaven is huge.

For in the same way they persecuted your ancestors, the prophets.”

Of course this is a continuation of the previous blessing on those who are persecuted in the cause of the good, but it focuses especially here on Jesus’ disciples. The more general blessing is made particular, and the cause is identified as that of Jesus himself.  The disciple follows Jesus because Jesus fulfils his deepest intuitions of goodness, but He also corrects and sharpens them by his teachings and actions. Love of Jesus leads disciples to follow his way, which turns out to offer hurt, suspicion, slander and persecution, as well as happiness. In this case it is tempting to see the suffering as earthly and the happiness as heavenly. But Jesus commands them to be happy now. Yes, that happiness is fuelled by the promise of a reward. All who say that virtue is its own reward, are faced with Jesus’ repeated promise of the recompense that God will give to his persecuted children. Faith without reward is not the faith of Jesus, just as mercy without judgement is not the mercy of Jesus.

But the happiness is also based on the gift of ancestors whom disciples would never have claimed as their own. Jesus recognised the prophets as his own ancestors; he may have understood his own destiny through the figure of God’s suffering servant imagined by Isaiah. He often spoke in the language of the prophets, especially when promising misfortune for God’s enemies. The faithfulness of the prophets in the face of the enmity of the powerful, was an inspiration to Jesus in his ministry and in his suffering. Here, however, he offers his disciples a share in this splendid ancestry. They may not have considered themselves as prophets of God, but here they are adopted into the family of Samuel, Elijah, Amos, Hosea, Micah and Isaiah and the rest. This blessing offers to me the ancestry of God’s biblical prophets, along with the martyrs of the faith, along with Bonhoeffer, Luther King, Gandhi, and many others, some unrecorded, down to David Haines of Perth, the aid worker savagely killed by Daesh. Is this happiness?

Yes, yes, what marvellous dignity it gives to my life when my own poor faith and discipleship, my own minor sufferings, are numbered with those of my ancestors, the prophets of God. And as I am happy to receive the honour of having them as ancestors, maybe, just maybe, they are happy to acknowledge me as one of their successors.

This blessing can help me obey Jesus’ command to be “full of joy and delight.”

 

This blog continues my meditation on the blessings of Jesus from Matthew chapter 5 which I started in my blog of May 29.

“Happiness for those persecuted in the cause of good:

the rule of heaven belongs to them.”

(I have translated the Greek “dikaiosune” neither as righteousness nor justice, which are the usual versions, but as “the good” because I think it means a comprehensive rightness.)

Being persecuted in the cause of evil is bad enough, but at least you know you’ve deserved it, whereas being persecuted in the cause of good, although common enough in this world, is surely unfair and miserable. I haven’t acted often enough in the cause of good to be able to judge with authority, but my one experience of persecution for that cause,  certainly gave me no pleasure, but rather fear, followed by fury.

So what right has Jesus to promise happiness to the persecuted?

Now that I’ve read that last sentence again, I can see how crass it is, given that Jesus knew only too well what it was like to be persecuted in the cause of good.

But he wasn’t happy, was he? It wasn’t  like the Python’s parodic crucifixion where the victims sing “Always look on the bright side of life.”

You might conclude that in this case the happiness promised is solely in the future, that is, in the resurrection life where the tears will be wiped away and the hard service rewarded.  But I’ve been arguing that although the blessings always point towards the full establishment of God’s rule, they also have a present dimension, in the ministry of jesus and his disciples, that is, in the beginning of God’s rule, through them.

The happiness Jesus promised comes from winning: the powers of the world persecute people who are committed to the good in the expectation that they will give up their commitment, either by agreeing with these powers, or by opposing them with the weapons of the world, for example with hatred and violence. But those who follow Jesus neither give in to the powers, nor do they oppose them by evil means: They hold on to goodness and suffer for it without departing from its methods. They hope that their goodwill may persuade their persecuters. This sacrificial faith is depicted in the much-misinterpreted book of The Revelation as the power which destroys the great city of “Babylon”, representative of all the oppressive empires of the world. The person who suffers for the good knows the happiness of being undefeated and continues to offer to the enemy the goodness which ultimately wins because it is the goodness of God. This is a profound happiness which nothing can remove.

The rule of God means that God wins by persuasive love, including the auffering of those who are persecuted for the good.

 

 

I’ve been working through the blessings of jesus as reported in Matthew 5. The complete passage is translated 6 blogs back.

Jesus said)

Happiness for the peacemakers!

they shall be called God’s children.

Again we should note that the respectful passive mood means that God will call them  his/her children.

The Greek word for peacemaker occurrs only here in the Bible, albeit in both Old and New Testaments peace is one of the most desired of God’s gifts. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew “Shalom” means wholeness, welfare, wellbeing, as well as peace, and is used to describe communal, societal and international conditions rather than personal experiences. In the the writings of St Paul, it refers to relationships with others or with God. Peace with God is especially treasured by Paul, while “kindness and peace from God” is one of his habitual greetings.

In Jesus’ blessings we can I think assume a primary reference to those who create interpersonal and communal peace, although there may be a secondary reference to those who create wellbeing of any sort.

Jesus would not have been starry-eyed about the human capacity for peace. Elsewhere he is reported as denying that he has come to bring peace and admitting that he causes division. Indeed he must have been aware that his ministry divided his own family and his own nation. That reminds me that the OT prophets recognised there could be a false peace:

”A curse upon those who say, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.”

Doubtless Jesus understood that true peace involved challenges to the advocates of unjust peace, especially in his ministry to the religious authorities of his people. We should note however, that he was not in favour of violent rebellion against the Roman invader. If Jesus thought of himself as a peacemaker, we must conclude that he saw it as working for God’s goodness amongst people without compromise yet without violence,  but with care for all, including the opponent.

That’s a tall order, because it does not rest on a calculation about what word or action is most likely to create peace. Jesus spoke and acted “in peace” regardless of immediate consequences.

There is no way to peace, for peace is the way.

Those who follow Jesus in this respect, may not find themselves creating peacefulness around themselves, but rather offering a “place of poise” in the midst of conflicts and difficulties. Their desire for common wellbeing appeals to the same desire in others, if it exists, and may create longer or shorter times, when peace happens. But even when there is no response from others, the peacemaker is united to the great event of peacemaking, which is God. And happiness. Sometimes there will be others who share this happiness, at other times there will be none, but at all times the peacemaker knows the happiness of a true identity between her/himself and the creator of life. This is not a mystical moment but a down to earth    knowledge that one has acted with no worldly justification in the name of something the world truly needs.

Jesus did not say when God would call the peacemakers his children, but he knew that whenever he did so, it would be forever.