The famous opening lines of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount come up this Sunday. (Matthew 5:1-12).
Contextually, they form the foundation of the manifesto for “the Kingdom of Heaven” that is at hand and announced successively by John the Baptist and Jesus. More contemporary language might replace “Kingdom” terms with the “all-pervading consciousness of the presence of God” that begins within one’s self and one’s community and begins to transform the world in ever increasing circles.
Jesus begins his movement of raising this new but continuous phase of God-awareness in Galilee’s lake district amongst the indentured fishing industry. His appeal is largely to crowds dependent on subsistence economy.
Consequently the Beatitudes are not a summons to behaving in a particular way, as religious leaders of the time may have urged, but a recognition and affirmation of the poor circumstances in which the peasantry of Galilee lived and the call to a new orientation of how they perceived their circumstances – not as victims of Herod’s oriental hierarchy in collusion with the heavy footed might of Rome, but as God-cherished denizens of a new society operating to selfless yet self-affirming standards of behaviour. These principles will be outlined further as the Sermon unfolds.
Food for thought as the Middle East experiences uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon against systems of rule widely perceived as tyrannical. One might be tempted to ponder how the orientation of the Beatitudes might apply in such circumstances (getting past the fact that many within the crowds are calling for the Islamification of government rule). One recalls the tremendous show of solidarity by the Egyptian populace with the beleaguered Coptic community in the wake of the New Year bombing in Alexandria. However, the call is to recognise the proximity of the Kingdom of Heaven to us. We can only respond from ourselves and not the distant neighbour, no matter how closely we hold them. This response however, ultimately embraces all. See a previous post on how prayer works.
Still pondering, but this is a start!