Thursday, September 15, 2016

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes–Beatitudes

38d2ea28-d0b8-4953-b962-1b9a41648f0b_1.521799f19899b1e8b6f68e4eef180b97We now move on to the second section of the book: Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, by Kenneth E. Bailey. The main purpose of this book is to take a fresh look at the Gospels in the context of Middle Eastern culture. This section tries to take a look at the Beatitudes as they would have been understood by Jesus’ original audience. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

In this section Bailey moves to a discussion of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. There is a short comparison to the similar passage in Luke 6, but Bailey keeps his focus on Matthew. The point of the Beatitudes is not to urge believers to a certain behavior so that they can be blessed, but to describe the blessed state of "the authentic spirituality and joy" of those who live for the coming kingdom. Blessed people "affirm a future that allows them to live a happy life now."

We live in the interim between the inauguration of the rule (kingdom) of God in the coming of Jesus Christ and its completion at the end of history. Our struggle for peace and justice is part of our discipleship as we work for and await the coming of that kingdom on earth as a gift of God.  Matthew 5.3, 69

This Beatitude also calls on the faithful to mourn over evil in their own lives as they realize their inability to conquer it unaided. Failure to love God and our neighbors should produce grief. The bless-ed are those who experience this mourning. Matthew 5.4, 71

Jesus’ original audience no doubt heard Jesus talking about “the land” and who could claim it as an inheritance. The answer was “the meek” rather than the racial descendants of anyone or the men of violence. We can assume that Matthew’s readers heard this same text identifying the whole earth as a precious inheritance for the children of God who will care for it and live in harmony with it. Matthew 5.5, 73

The Beatitudes can be lived out in relationship with Jesus Christ. The blessed ones are those who acknowledge the saving act of God in Jesus and are committed to living out that relationship in their relationships with others in the power of the Spirit. That is what pursuing righteousness is all about. The lifestyle is described as merciful: forgiving as Jesus forgave us, pure in heart: all passions and goals focused on Jesus, and peacemaking: bringing the qualities of that relationship to others as we experience them within ourselves. Sadly, we should expect persecution when we try to live this way.

The statement presupposes that righteousness is something the faithful continuously strive after. The blessed are not those who arrive but those who continue, at whatever cost, in their pilgrimage toward a more perfect righteousness. The constant, relentless drive toward righteousness characterizes the blessed. Matthew 5.6, 77

To show mercy or to forgive is extremely difficult for those who have been deeply wronged. But the alternative is self-destruction through nursing grudges or seeking revenge...The bless-ed escape these self-crippling cycles, for they are merciful. But there is more...That is, the merciful will obtain the mercy of God. The mercy of their fellow human beings may be in short supply but the mercy of God will never fail them. Matthew 5.7, 82–83

These eight lofty standards have their finest expression in the life of Jesus. The reader gradually comes to this conclusion as the list lengthens. In the ninth Beatitude loyalty to the person of Jesus is openly introduced. That same loyalty is inevitable if the reader turns to Jesus as a model for the fulfillment of the pattern of righteousness here portrayed. Matthew 5.10-12, 86

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