Rejoice and Be Glad

Posted: January 31, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

I missed church today after planning to go for the first time in a while. I wish I’d gone. I would have heard these words from the Lectionary for today:

Matthew 5:1-12

5When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in hear in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Today’s text readings in the Lectionary mark the beginning of the readings of the Sermon on the Mount in the liturgical year.

I wish the Sermon was the creed we’d read every week in church instead of the anachronistic Nicene Creed. The core teachings of Jesus, not the resolution of the theological disputes of the 4th century, should be the guiding lights of our practice and faith. The Sermon asks so much more of us. I guess that explains it.

  1. TheFlyingFitzman says:

    Have you signed on to the Charter of Compassion being heralded by Karen Armstrong? From your posts, it sounds like you would be interested. This section of the gospels certainly does uphold the law of compassion, or the golden rule, but it also reveals very clearly that Jesus fell very clearly in the camp of Apocalyptic prophets so common in the Palestine of 400B.C. – 100A.D. The admonitions of the Sermon on the Mount and the beatitudes are wondrous and compelling, but still mysterious, until one understands that Jesus fully expected the entire world to end very soon, within or shortly after his lifetime, and to be followed by the final judgment, at which point all of his principles make perfect sense. In the ancient terminology, these can be understood as Jesus’ principles of the City of Heaven.

    However, two millenia later, it is incumbent on those of us who attempt to live a moral life in the City of Man, to discern what are the enduring principles behind his philosophy and to discard those elements that are foolhardy if one feels compelled to plan for many future generatations to come. And, for those to whom this might sound alarming, to suggest we question the wisdom of Jesus, I suggest that we actually do it all the time already, even those who claim to be Christians. For instance, where are the Christian churches actively encouraging their members to abandon their family members to spread the word of the coming Apocalypse? The answer is, nowhere, beyond a few kooky outliers.

    Actually we naturally discard those elements of his teaching we feel to be immoral, and we shouldn’t feel bad about it. Jesus clearly thought the world was about to end any minute; why else encourage people to abandon their families and all their worldly possessions and responsibilities? But today we presume that the world’s end is highly unlikely any time soon, and thus we have a responsibility to prepare for the most likely future. There are threats, such as asteroids, supervolcanoes, nuclear war, etc. but they are fairly remote, and so we feel inclined to plan ahead for our children and their children. Anything else would be immoral.

    • dcrowe says:

      Hi there, TheFlyingFitzman. Thanks for your thoughtful comment and for dropping by the site.

      I have not signed onto the Charter of Compassion but will take a look at it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

      I am aware that some believe Jesus believed the world was coming to an end soon in almost a geological sense. I don’t personally subscribe to this view, however. I think Jesus often spoke in metaphor, such as when he tells the Temple authorities, “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it again in three days.” In some sense, his world and the world of his audience did come to an end with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and again a generation or two later, by the Romans. I think Jesus was responding both to the corruption of the local collaborators with the Romans and the growing possibility of the outbreak of open war with Rome, and had a sense that what was coming was a disaster.

      I don’t hold to the City of Man/City of Heaven Augustinian distinction you’re making. Personally I find a lot of Augustine’s theology to be the work of a man who was a Roman first, and then a Christian (himself tutored by a man who was first a Roman official and then made bishop at roughly the same time he was baptized by what was very nearly a mob) working to reconcile the two in a way that was convenient for him. You can see this in the way he takes the classical just war theory and gives is a scriptural, shallow patina. His teachings mark a very stark break with the other church leaders such as Hippolytus (sp?) and others.

      Finally, even if Jesus did think that the world was literally about to end, I don’t think that necessarily allows one to discard his moral teachings as idiosyncratic. For one thing, that means you’re positing that Jesus is teaching a situational morality, and that he would provide other teachings if he knew the world wansn’t about to end, and there’s no way to know that. I believe his teachings are not that mysterious at all, but are instead just hard to swallow. He has a clearly articulated moral teaching, and I very much appreciate your honesty in the fact that you discard the elements of his teachings you find to be immoral–that’s much more honest than what Augustine does, for example. So many people try to make the square peg of their own moral outlook fit in the round hole of Jesus’ teachings.

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