How noble the poor

All Saints’ Day Observed

Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10, 13-14

Psalm 149

Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17

Matthew 5:1-12

I’m afraid this won’t be much of an entry this week. The events of the week (R’s hospitaliization, among other things) haven’t left me much time for working on a blog.

What I want to observe, however, is that both Ecclesiasticus and Matthew engage in the same kind of literature, the praise of the noble. It’s a standard literary form, and serves to identify the community being addressed, and its ethic. Ecclesiasticus goes on to praise famous men (sorry, it’s men only) by name — all the great names of the Jewish epic, and give reasons why they are worthy of praise. The intended audience of the sons of the nobility would carry away from this hymn a clear idea of what they should aspire to.

The beatitudes are exactly the same form of literature. Each could be translated “How noble the poor in spirit, or those who mourn, etc.” Reasons are then given why they are worthy of emulation. They point at exactly the opposite sorts of folks Ecclesiasticus is pointing at.

The events of the week lead me to reflect that we are noble precisely when we need the support of the community, not the other way around. It is the web of relationships that surrounds us that makes us saints, not our personal virtue (virtue only makes sense as a social category anyway). We are to make sure that that web of relationships is not so tissue-thin for anyone that it tears under stress. We do this by ennobling those who rely on the community (all of us). It is only through the help of that great cloud of witnesses that we can run the race. And those witnesses are those named in the beatitudes rather than in Ecclesiasticus’ hymn to famous men. These are they who have come through the great distress.

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