Sep 1, 2022
This nasty turn unnerved me, so I gathered myself together and drew a table with my comfortable beatitudes on one side and my uncomfortable ones on the other...
Poor Judas! We click our tongues over you. You’re our object lesson in missing the point. I feel sorry for you, but come on, why couldn’t you get it? I’m glad I haven’t missed the point.
Or Judas, could I be more like you than I’d like to admit?
One day I was pondering the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), and I was thinking about the people Jesus was looking at. I smiled, as I pictured Jesus gazing directly at me. “Blessed are you…yours is the kingdom.” What a nice, warm feeling; I was in His camp, on the right side. Ah. Yes.
Suddenly, I was Judas. Jesus looked right into my eyes, and He said directly to me, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…the meek…the merciful…the peacemakers.” This did not feel good. I wasn’t sure whose camp I was in, whose side I was on. Uh. No.
But Jesus, I like the other beatitudes better: “Blessed are you who mourn…who hunger and thirst for righteousness…the clean of heart…persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” These beatitudes comfort me. They are my badges of honor. You see, I am an expert in many things. I have all the answers. If I were the Queen of the World, everything would work. I have plans and agendas. I have ideas. Oh boy.
This nasty turn unnerved me, so I gathered myself together and drew a table with my comfortable beatitudes on one side and my uncomfortable ones on the other:
I did a little rearranging, and four new dyads emerged:
Poor in Spirit
Hungering and Thirsting for Righteousness
Clean of Heart
I saw each dyad as a two-sided coin or a double-edged sword, and I took a deeper look.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Someone like me, who has all the answers, mourns the broken state of the world. I have pet issues. My mourning tends to quickly morph into anger, rage, and aggrieved fury. I seek comfort by knowing I’m right, even if everyone around me doesn’t get it. I suspect this is how Judas might have felt. But Jesus didn’t just drop the mourning piece unaccompanied. He set us up with poverty of spirit. I have long grappled with this puzzling beatitude. But I think it means, “Blessed are you who know you don’t have all the answers. You know you depend on God to work many things out -- things that are too big for you to fully understand.” This beatitude requires real humility and self-acceptance. Could poverty of spirit re-inform my mourning? Could I mourn the losses I experience -- the frustration, the sorrow -- in the light of utter dependence on God? Could I find comfort, not in being told I’m right, but in the comforting arms of a father?
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
I’m sure Judas was attracted to Jesus because he hungered for, thirsted for, things to be put right. I do too. I talk about being on “the right side of history.” I also want to be right with God, to get that A. Outstanding. Superior. But what if being in a right relationship with God is about something much bigger than me? Much bigger than my pet issues, as worthy as they may be? Maybe making peace belongs on the path to righteousness. When I know there’s conflict, maybe it’s an opportunity to sow peace, to heal, to mend, to bind together. And here’s the kicker: maybe my blustering quest for righteousness kicks up too much dust, and human relationships choke in the wake. It’s hard to live with righteous people. I want to hunger and thirst for it, and I want to be a peacemaker. Could it be that each of these two beatitudes falls off track without the other?
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
I see this dyad as two sides of holiness, one side focused inward, the other side focused outward. Clean -- or pure, as we more commonly say -- hearts are swept free of sin. Clean hearts have no secrets; they live in the light, especially before God. Clean hearts don’t deceive themselves. Clean hearts desire only good. But clean hearts can also grow proud, and cold, and judgmental. Judas must have had a narrow definition of purity -- who’s in; who’s out. When I’m so focused on my own holiness, chasing after purity, that I look down on others as inferior, I’ve missed the mark. When I’m so focused on my own holiness that I despise parts of myself that stand in the way of that imagined pure destination, I’ve missed the mark. Maybe mercy is the antidote. Maybe mercy, regularly practiced, is the grounding, practical, earthy, humble, necessary counterpart to cleanness -- to purity. Mercy is messy. Mercy gets all over us; it’s not neat or clean. Mercy is gritty. Jesus must have delighted in people who had clean hearts and dirty hands.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
If there was ever a beatitude Judas might have treasured, it’s the persecution one. This is a self-appointed martyr’s dream. Persecution is great, because we get to shift the blame onto someone else. We are the victims. We are not responsible. God will avenge us. But hold on, what about meekness? Jesus blessed those who, in the face of persecution, chose to be quiet, gentle, and easily imposed upon; submissive. Maybe without this gentle tempering, the crown of persecution becomes a whitewashed sepulcher.
After all this musing, I came up with this idea: I call the four beatitudes about mourning, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, cleanness of heart, and persecution the “Purity Beatitudes.” And the four beatitudes about poverty of spirit, peacemaking, mercy, and meekness are the “Unity Beatitudes.” The Purity Beatitudes are focused inward, toward private holiness. They fill us with an internal strength about what is right and supply us with righteous anger in the face of evil. This is good. But I see a danger here, if we spend too much energy in the Purity column, at the expense of the Unity column. We could easily drift into self-aggrandizement, pomposity, self-pity, snobbery, and isolated independence -- smirking critically outwards. The Unity Beatitudes are about self-abnegation, humility, vulnerability, and interdependence -- focused lovingly outwards. But without the astringent Purity Beatitudes, we could become flaccid Christians with weak boundaries around what is holy -- quick to forgive, but blind to sin and unwilling to name it.
The Beatitudes are comforting and challenging at the same time. In the end, Judas missed the point. I’m sure it broke Jesus’s heart. May I not miss the point.
Image: Judas' Regret by Jose Ferraz de Almeida Júnior. Oil on Canvas. 1880.
E.C. Argus is a Catholic Christian citizen of planet Earth, engaged in a life-long quest to understand reality as a player in God’s great rescue project. She hopes her small takes on the greatest story ever told might bring light to someone’s darkness or help to lift a burden from someone’s bowed shoulders. She spends a lot of time outside, in awe of the complexity and beauty of the natural world. She makes a living creating and teaching the performing arts.