Beatitudes.Epiphany4A.2011

Epiphany 4A, 2011
Matthew 5:1-11

A Liturgy is also available

THE ‘BEST WE CAN’ BE-ATITUDES...

In this morning’s gospel story we have the beginnings
of what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, or the Beatitudes.
        Indeed, some have even paraphrased the title as:
        ‘Be-Attitudes’ or ‘Attitudes for Being’.

And the first thing we may recall is: ‘Haven’t we heard all this before!’

Well, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ - if you will forgive me sounding like a seasoned politician.
        We probably have heard a similar story - from Luke, and most probably last year.
        But Matthew’s story is not the same as Luke’s.

So let me unpack that just a little.

Personally, I prefer Luke’s version.
Even though Luke’s is writing after Matthew, I reckon he is using earlier material.

That said, the Luke story is about the poor, the hungry and those who weep.
        He is clearly talking about human need.
        He reflects Jesus' sayings that when God's reign is enacted, there will be change.

But it will be good news for only certain people.
The poor.
The hungry.
The depressed.

In Matthew’s story we find that these promises have undergone some change.
His focus is less on the needy, have been somewhat ‘spiritualised’,
and is more on the hearers who need to be challenged to take up new attitudes.

West Australian Bill Loader offers this suggestion for the change in emphasis:
“Love and compassion are the hallmark of the discipleship for which Jesus calls… Perhaps this reflects the kind of people who made up Matthew's community.  So… the beatitudes have been changed from promises to the poor and hungry to challenges to people to be 'poor in spirit' and to 'hunger after righteousness'… attitudes and behaviours you need to develop” 
(Loader web site 2005).

Now, whether Jesus actually preached a sermon like this or not, is debatable.
        I happen to agree with those scholars who reckon he didn’t.
        That what he have here is an edited collection of sayings.

But what seemed to matter for Matthew the storyteller,
was the building-up of his young, struggling community.
         And to do that Matthew had to recruit more followers
         who would take upon themselves the responsibility
                    for dreaming and for re-imagining the world.

But they had little or no inkling how to live out that dream.
How to be a ‘kingdom’ of equals.

So, Matthew tells a story… of Jesus leading a group of supporters
        to the western shore of the Sea of Galilee,
        where he, Jesus, begins to teach stretch their imaginations.

oo0oo

The Inclusive Language Lectionary which I used this morning uses the words “Happy are...”
‘Happy’ is a word which seems to jar.
And not everyone is happy with the ‘happy’ translation.

A few commentators reckon it makes Jesus out to be
some kind of
“pop psychologist”  (Sarah Dylan Breuer).

On the other hand, doesn’t everyone strive to be ‘happy’?

Then there is the more familiar translation, ‘Blessed’.
But that is open to the irritating touch of the pious.

A third suggestion is to replace ‘blessed’, the traditional term derived from the Latin,
with its modern equivalent ‘congratulations!’
For in these sayings
“Jesus declares that certain groups are in God’s special favor”
(Funk 1993:138)

While a fourth is to translate the Greek as ‘honoured’  (J H Neyrey).
Honoured are you when you make the greatest claim for others;
Honoured are you when you bring peace rather than being a source of dissension;
Honoured are you when you act non-violently in the face of violence.

Matthew sets the stage.  And he does that in story…
        A story which has us and the members of his community
        overhearing a Jesus’ conversation…

A story which invites a response in favour of those who are
adversely affected by the powerful goings-on of the ‘empire’.

And encouraging a response that will want to do away with all that
oppresses,
limits,
restricts,
deprives,
imprisons others.

To borrow some 21st century words of social commentator, Hugh Mackay:
“The acid test of the decency of any society [or group] is the way it deals with the disadvantaged, the drop-outs, the criminals and, yes, the ‘aliens’” 
(SMH, 2 February 2005. p22).

In all these story suggestions we can sense Matthew’s hope
that at least some of the community will reply: 
        That’s risky.
        That may mean change.
But... we can be that!  We can live out that dream!

oo0oo

Like Matthew’s community, we are also invited to listen.
Like Matthew’s community, we can respond:
        That’s risky.

That may mean change.
But... we can be that!  We can live out that dream!

And like the members of Matthew’s community, we can.
        Not perfectly.
        But as best we can on any given day.


Notes:
Dylan’s Lectionary Blog. Sarah Dylan Breuer. 2005.
Funk, R. W. et al. 1993. 
The Five Gospels. The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. New York. Macmillan Publishing.
Jerome H. Neyrey. <http://www.nd.edu/~jneyrey1/loss.html> "Honoring the Dishonored: The Cultural Edge of Jesus' Beatitudes,

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