When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I am a fan of the musical Hamilton.
Although I haven’t seen it on Broadway, I’ve listened to it dozens of times and I am consistently awed by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-, Grammy-, and Pulitzer-award winning music and lyrics. As one friend commented, Hamilton has “all the emotions.”
One of the things about the show that I find so fascinating is Miranda’s ability to explore the major events and themes of Alexander Hamilton’s life in ways that make the complexities of history and human nature accessible and familiar. Hamilton’s rise from poverty to influence as a member of George Washington’s military staff and presidential cabinet, his marriage and adulterous affair, the murder of his son, Philip, the creation of a national bank, and his own death in a duel with Aaron Burr are all wonderfully told in this modern-masterpiece.
As I was reading this Sunday’s Gospel, which includes the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount—the Beatitudes—I was reminded of a scene from Hamilton in which the Continental Army defeats the British at the Battle of Yorktown. Following the battle, the character of Hamilton reflects on what has just happened:
We negotiate the terms of surrender
I see George Washington smile
We escort their men of out Yorktown
They stagger home single file
Tens of thousands of people flood the streets
There are screams and church bells ringing
And as our fallen foes retreat
I heard the drinking song they’re singing…
The world turned upside down
I imagine that for the people listening to Jesus on the mountain that day, hearing him describe the poor in spirit, those who suffer and mourn, as being “blessed” it might have seemed as though the world had turned upside down. What Jesus is saying defies the logic that guides so much in our world and his teachings go against the hopes that many had that he would be a new kind of king who would restore the fortunes and freedom of Israel. But that isn’t who Jesus was.
These nine blessings of the Beatitudes give us a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus isn’t necessarily promising rewards for his followers here and now. Instead, he’s looking toward the fullness of life in the God’s Kingdom. As Scripture scholar Daniel Harrington, S.J., observed, “The promise of God’s kingdom frames the eight beatitudes (5:3, 10), and the intervening promises (comfort, inheriting the land, satisfaction, obtaining mercy, seeing God, being called ‘sons of God’) refer to the final judgment, the vindication of the just, and the establishment of God’s perfect kingdom” (from The Gospel of Matthew).
While the blessings of the Beatitudes transport us to the fullness of life in the
Reign of God, the qualities of discipleship outlined in the blessings are very much concerned with how we live our lives in this present moment.
In these post-inauguration days, when there is so much tension and un-ease in our country, it’s important for us to take time to reflect on how we are living out our commitments as followers of Jesus and the Beatitudes offer a beautiful opportunity for us to ask ourselves some challenging questions. But, we can also reflect on how similar our current situation is to that of Jesus’ first followers. Like them, we also live in days of uncertainty, haunted by threats of violence and by fear. The Beatitudes promise that what we experience today will lead to future joy.
Like those women and men so many years ago, we also need to take Jesus’ promises to heart and remember the blessings promised to the poor, the meek, to mourners, to peacemakers, and to those who suffer persecution for their faith in Christ. Reflecting on this, Sister Barbara Reid, O.P., notes that the way of life outlined in the Beatitudes “is able to heal the hurtful memories of the past and to transform the present toward a hope-filled future… Jesus addresses his teaching to all his disciples and to a great crowd, inviting them to recognize their capacity for happiness in this present by espousing attitudes and actions that will influence the future” (from Abiding Word, Year A)
How do the beatitudes challenge your view of what it means to be blessed by God?
What blessings have you experienced in your life as a disciple of Jesus? What blessings do you continue to hope for?
Take time each day this coming week to reflect on one of the Beatitudes. How can you live it more fully?
Words of Wisdom: “We can never meditate seriously enough on this great charter of the Christian life or ever be done with the attempt to implement it fully. It can always be read with a still greater faith and a still deeper sense of God.” –Adrian Nocent, O.S.B., in The Liturgical Year