Sunday 1 November 2014
All Saints’ Day (observed)
All Saints’ A (RCL)
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
All Saints’ Day and the beatitudes. One is tempted to say, “Ho hum.” Blessed are the pure in heart — we’re all supposed to be pure in heart, so that we can be saints, right? Those robed in white are they who have come through the great tribulation — the martyrs sing before the throne of God.
When we read the beatitudes, and hear the word “Blessed,” we tend to think of how fortunate those named will be in the future. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is [will be] the kingdom of heaven. In fact, the word makarios is probably best translated, “How honorable.” A speech of this form (a makarism) was usually addressed to some great benefactor in praise for what the benefactor had done for a city (or other social grouping). The people that Jesus lists are hardly the sorts who would have been honored in the Mediterranean culture of the time. Especially when we translate ptochoi as cringing beggar, rather than poor. Luke leaves out the qualifying phrases. Blessed are the cringing beggars – no “in spirit” for Luke. Blessed are the hungry and thirsty – no “for righteousness” for Luke. These were the literal beggars and starving whom the community is holding up for honor.
The beatitudes are forcing a shift in what we value, forcing a reconsideration of whom we should honor now, not who will receive God’s blessing in the future. The Roman Empire honored military conquest and conquerors. They honored great wealth and power. Those who were crushed in the process were not held up for honor, but rather shamed. Likewise, in the picture painted by John, the Revealer, those who have suffered martyrdom, the deepest possible shame as far as Rome was concerned, are held up for honor in the court of God.
We need to be asking who are the poor today, the grieving, the hungry and thirsty, the gentle, the peacemakers and the persecuted. How might we hold them up for honor?