It’s Time To Post Luke’s Beatitudes in Front of the White House (Sunday Homily)

davidic-covenant

Readings for Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Second in the Extraordinary Time of Donald Trump) ZEP 2:3, 3:12-15; PS 146:6-7, 8-10; ICOR 1: 25-31; MT 5: 1-12A.

So we’re a Christian nation, right? At least that’s what right wingers would have us believe, despite the presence of millions of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists – and atheists – among us.

Well, if we’re so Christian, here’s an idea for you. How about posting the Beatitudes in front of U.S. courthouses instead of the Ten Commandments? How about posting them on the walls of our schools, and in front of the White House? Doesn’t that seem more appropriate? I mean the Beatitudes come from the specifically Christian Testament. The Ten Commandments, on the other hand, come from the Jewish Testament.

I predict that will never happen. In fact, I’ll bet dollars to donuts, there’d be a hue and cry (on the part of Christians, mind you) that would prevent the move. And do you know why? Because the Beatitudes centralized in today’s liturgy of the word are too radical and un-American for the “Christian” right. They make sweeping judgments about classes. They indicate that the rich (evidently no matter how they got their money) are at odds with God’s plan, while the poor (regardless of why they’re poor) are his favorites.

No, I’m not so much talking about the version of the Beatitudes found in the Gospel of Matthew which were read in today’s Gospel excerpt. In Matthew, Jesus’ words are already softened. Instead, my reference is to Luke’s probably earlier version that expresses harsher judgments.

Here’s the way, Luke phrases Jesus’ words in Chapter 6 of his Gospel:

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. . .

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

Do you see what I mean? Luke’s version doesn’t spiritualize poverty the way Matthew does. Matthew changes Jesus’ second-person statement about poverty (“Blessed are you who are poor”) to a third-person generalized and spiritualized “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Similarly, Luke’s “Blessed are you who are hungry now” becomes “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice” in Matthew.  In this way physical hunger is turned into something spiritual or psychological. Obviously, Matthew’s community was not as poor as Luke’s – or as the people Jesus habitually addressed.

In fact, the entire Judeo-Christian tradition is so valuable exactly because – unlike most of ancient literature – it represents the lore of poor people about their relationship with God.

Granted, that tradition became the object of class struggle about 1000 years before Jesus’ time, with the contested emergence of a royal class.

That is, starting with King Saul, the royalty of Judah and Israel tried mightily to turn a poor people’s faith into an ideology supporting the country’s elite. More particularly, under King David, palace oligarchs distorted the divine promise to slaves escaped from Egypt. That promise had been “I will be your God and you will be my people.” David turned it into a promise of a permanent dynasty for himself and his descendants. In other words, the country’s royalty transformed the Mosaic Covenant into a Davidic Covenant serving the elite rather than the poor.

However, the people’s prophets resisted them at every step. We find examples of that in all of today’s readings. For instance, in our first selection, the seventh century (BCE) prophet, Zephaniah, addresses the world’s (not simply Israel’s) poor. With his country’s aristocrats and priests in mind, he denounces their lies and “deceitful tongues” and urges them to treat the “humble and lowly” with justice as was prescribed by Moses.

Then with the responsorial Psalm 146 (probably written in the late sixth century) we all found ourselves chanting the words Matthew attributes to Jesus: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; the Kingdom of God is theirs.” The “Kingdom of God,” of course, is shorthand for what the world would be like if God were king instead of those corrupt royal classes. The psalmist says that change would bring justice for the oppressed, hungry, imprisoned, physically handicapped, the fatherless, the widow, and the resident alien. All of these were specific beneficiaries of the Mosaic Covenant.

Today’s third reading from I Corinthians promises a Great Reversal. There Paul of Tarsus (in modern day Turkey) identifies Jesus’ earliest followers as those who “count for nothing” in the eyes of the world. (Do you see the return to the Mosaic Covenant?)  Jesus followers are riffraff. Paul identifies them as unwise, foolish, and weak. They are lowly and despised. Yet in reality, Paul assures his audience, the despised will finally be proven wise and holy. Ominously for their betters, Paul promises that those who count for nothing will reduce to zero those who in the world’s eyes are considered something.

Jesus, of course, appears in Zephaniah’s and Paul’s prophetic tradition as defender of the poor and the Mosaic Covenant. Matthew makes that point unmistakably by changing the location of Luke’s parallel discourse. In Luke, Jesus announces the Beatitudes “on a level place” (LK 6:17). Matthew puts Jesus “on a mount” for the same sermon. His point is that Jesus is the New Moses who also received the Old Covenant on a mount (Sinai). Put otherwise: the so-called Beatitudes represent the New Law of God.

That’s why it makes more sense to place the Beatitudes on a plaque in front of our courthouses, on the walls of our schools, and in front of the White House.

But as I said, don’t hold your breath. Can you imagine Donald Trump and his super-wealthy cabinet members (and their constituents) having to read Luke’s words every day?

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

No, in its essence, the Judeo-Christian tradition belongs precisely to poor people. It belongs to those whom the Trump administration (and perhaps Americans in general) think “count for nothing.” As Paul intimates, those are the very ones who will rise up and reduce to zero those who in the world’s eyes are considered something.

That message is no more welcome today than it was 2000 years ago.

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

7 thoughts on “It’s Time To Post Luke’s Beatitudes in Front of the White House (Sunday Homily)”

    1. Hi Mike K,

      agreed. I hadn’t read Eisenstein before. His perspective is an important thread in the warp and woof of a cultural transformation whose need is now not simply needed but urgent.

      His struggle getting across to protesters at the inauguration demonstrates the limits of intellectual conversion: it can only reach the almost-converted. That’s got me thinking.

      Hank

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      1. Hello Hank. Your comment is very much to the point. Throughout history those who have gone radically beyond their culture’s boundaries find themselves in territory almost impossible to communicate to those still blissfully asleep within the cultural narratives of their time and place. These pioneer’s find themselves seeking others who have what Gurdjieff called ‘magnetic center.’ By which he meant there was something within them that was partially awake, this often causing them to ask questions others avoided asking, and feel discomfort with situations where others were comfortable – for example watching violent movies or video games. Such prospects for awakening are beginning to feel what Martha Graham called a ‘blessed unrest’ which properly understood and channeled could be a source of creative transformation.

        One challenge for small groups is to attract these people, and help them to use their unease to lead them into the quest for truth that is the essence of all true spiritual paths.

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  1. Jan 28 Mankind is suffering a great famine. What is lacking is unconditional Love. Unless ways are found to meet the growing scarcity of this vitally needed nutrient, we are facing our near term extinction.

    A world awash in fear, selfishness, and violence exacerbates our dangerous deficiency state, and is pushing us ever closer to our extinction. In our increasingly deluded mental condition, we are blind to the harm we are inflicting on all life on this precious planet. In our madness we even celebrate our power to destroy all the deep supports life is dependent on. It is not clear to us that military power is the enemy of Love. Our paranoia tells us we must be armed to protect against the very dangers that our arms have created. Deep unconsciousness and irrationality are hallmarks of our deteriorating inner state.

    The Love that could save us is held in contempt by the powerful of our world as simply a weakness to be exploited in enslaving us. Those who speak of Love, sharing and caring for each other are portrayed as the enemies of the state and it’s power. Ayn Rand’s recommendation that we crush and eliminate all compassion in ourselves is the epitome of the power elite’s ruthless war against love.

    Jimi Hendrix’ statement epitomizes our situation: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

    Our mission in life is to find that Love in ourselves and spread it in all our relations. Becoming deeply aware of the nightmare we are enacting is a necessary first step on that Path. So, seeing how bad our situation is and sharing that knowledge with others is actually an act of Love. We would not hesitate to warn our friends of a deadly situation they might be unaware of moving into. Sometimes we have to upset people to alert them to unseen danger. This is an expression of real Love, which considers a persons long term interests important enough to deliver some disturbing news. Shaking a sleeping person may seem violent and intrusive, but what if their house is on fire? Our world is on fire….

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  2. The sooner articles of impeachment are drawn up to get rid of Trump, the better. There should be relentless legal and citizen pressure to get this done from this day forward. His illegal violations of the Constitution are so numerous as to make an ironclad basis for his ouster. This man thinks he is a law unto himself; we need to show him otherwise. Many good Republicans will join this effort to rid their party of the embarassment that he represents.

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