Friday, June 14, 2013

The Beatitudes, part 1

It all began with a question.

Who, we wondered, are the poor in spirit?

This, as you probably know, is a reference to the first of the Beatitudes, the "Blessed are the..." section in Matthew 5:3-12, and begins the Sermon on the Mount. The whole section reads as follows:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Now, before I begin looking at this, I wanted to share why it is going here, in a blog about applying the Baha'i Faith in my life. Simple. The methodology of looking at the Writings in detail and exploring the development of what they say is what led me to look at this piece from Jesus again. It seemed to me that if this was from the Pen of God, so to speak, then it is likely more than a series of disconnected statements. I wondered if it could be a beautiful and majestic path that He was leading us on.

And this is what I shared with a number of friends who are Christian, about how to re-examine their own Scripture.

"Who", I asked, "are the poor in spirit?" Because, really, it is a good question, isn't it? I mean, have you ever thought about it? I know I hadn't before this. The answers that the group gave were about what I expected, having gone down that same road myself only a little bit earlier.

"Murderers." "Thieves." "Atheists." (I found it interesting that atheists came in the same group here.) "People who are overly materialistic, or greedy, and don't care about others."

"Ok', I replied. "If that's the case, why do they get the Kingdom of Heaven?"

There was a bit of a stunned silence. Obviously their line of thought was going in a similar direction as mine had when I looked at this passage.

"What if", I offered, "the poor in spirit are those people with severe limited mental capacity, or those who die as infants? These are people who haven't had the opportunity to really search for God, so God, in His mercy, grants them the Kingdom of Heaven."

You see, dear reader, this also ties in with what 'Abdu'l-Baha said about those children who die very early, or are miscarried. "Be not grieved", is one of the many passages about this subject from the Pen of the Master, "at the death of that infant child, for it is placed in trust for thee before thy Lord in His great Kingdom."

And so, this passage from the Bible can offer us comfort in times of grief at the loss of a child, if we choose to read it that way. It can also offer us consolation regarding those we love who may have severe mental issues, or other troubles that influence their ability to make a conscious choice about investigating reality.

Then, in the second of the Beatitudes, Jesus carries us on. Oh, I should mention that the second and the third appear to be in either order, depending on the translation. I will go with the one above, just for the sake of ease, and to admit that we don't actually know which one came first. Please feel free to reverse them, if you want. It doesn't make a huge difference to my narrative here.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." As we move from those with no choice to to those who have a choice, we follow that path that was started way back in Genesis when we left the Garden. Now we have the ability to mourn. And while it is good to mourn, for it shows the depth of our heart, the nature of our feelings, this is not where we want to stay. It is only the beginning. If we remain stuck in our mourning, never able to move past it, then we are not truly showing a belief in the next world. We are trapped here in this world. Remember, Shoghi Effendi went catatonic at the news of his Grandfather's passing. He truly grieved and mourned. But he went on. He was fully aware of the Master's spirit in his life, and although he missed His presence, physically, it was likely the sustaining knowledge of His station in the next world that carried him past this grief. He was comforted.

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." This is an interesting one. On the one hand, we could say that being meek is not all that great, for you don't show the assertiveness sometimes needed to move things forward, to defend that which is right. We could easily say that in the grand scheme of things, the earth is not all that great a reward. And we would be right. It is, after all, a dust heap. It is as nothing when compared to the Kingdom of God. But if we remain at that level of belief, then we are missing something else that is truly inspirational. Meekness is a form of humility. It is what begins us on our path. While being meek can mean that we are weak or easily imposed upon, it also means we are submissive. And when appropriate, submissiveness is a great virtue. When we show preference to others, we are being meek. When we listen to what others say, being careful to examine their perspective, sometimes despite our own, we are being meek. Not only can we gain great knowledge by being meek, this is also one of the virtues that is needed to "inherit the earth". Without it, the world will keep on being overrun by those who destroy it for their own gain. The time must come when we either make this planet uninhabitable for our species, or begin to better reward those who will take care of it. Truly the meek will inherit this earth, for no one else is worthy of its trust.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." Just as the line about those who mourn follows so nicely the idea of those who suffer the loss of a child, so this line follows nicely the idea of those who are the trustees of the planet. And just as those who mourn will be comforted either in this world or the next, so, too, will those who long for justice be filled. They will either see it meted out in this world through either the court system or karma, or they will witness it in the next. We can see the poor being trod upon. It is clear and evident. We see the rights of many being violated by those in power, and we cry at the injustice of it. But just as we see this, we also can witness many of them being called to trial in this life. We see the heavy hand of justice falling upon their shoulders. And if, somehow, they escape it in this world, we can rest assured that justice will be met in the next.

Now I would love to finish this little examination of the Beatitudes right now, but I have to go to work this morning. And so hopefully I will continue it later this weekend. And don't worry, I still haven't forgotten about the Ridvan Message. There's just so much to write about, and so little time.

1 comment:

  1. Great question Mead! I've always thought that the poor in spirit were those who can't shake themselves out of depression or mental illness; and therefore have trouble turning to God or trusting in God.