Beatitudes for a Bewildered World

Written 19 June, 2012.
Forthcoming in Festschrift for Dr. Siga Arles.

I am a newcomer to Dr. Siga Arles, and I must confess that I haven’t read much of his writings either. But, we have had few moments, first at a Seminar in Andhra University, then on two of the 4/14 Window Consultations at Patna. This month I had the privilege of joining his tact-team of resource persons for an MTh/PhD module at CFCC and was greatly enriched by his life and input. So, when I was told that a Festschrift was due in honor of him, I was very keen to also pen down something before the honors were frozen into a book. I decided to do that by means of this reflective article based on his original input.

During the module, each day, Dr. Siga took us on a devotional trip to the Mount of Beatitudes, which was a great source of blessing and enrichment to all of us. He was only able to go on till verse 9 of Matthew chapter 5, during the time I was there. But, each talk was a compressed hour of intense reflection – and positive provocation as well. I’d like to re-run the reel of provocations and flash some clippings onto the screen of this paper here. But, incontrovertibly, the projecting equipment shall be mine; and, I must confess that I have meddled with some of the clippings already, but in honor.

THE BEATITUDES

The Sermon on the Mount has been commented in volumes of works throughout the world. An exhaustive analysis of it would exhaust infinity. It is incredible that the One before whose towering mind the academies of the world stand infinitesimally small should choose to talk to a few simple men in a few simple aphorisms that still baffle the world. It would not be erroneous to contend that the modern world and its ideal of civilized humanity is a product of the Sermon on the Mount. At least one thinker, whom we’ll quote below, thought that. However, that whole argument can be reserved for some other essay. In the following few pages, we’ll only briefly explore the first 7 of the beatitudes that Jesus presented as the ideal of a blissful human life. I hope to keep the interpretation true to motif: build, bridge, and breakthrough.



Point of Engagement


“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

The German nihilist Nietszche labeled Jesus’ ethics as “herd morality” (Herden-Moral). To him, it was, in fact, the baby born out of the Jewish inversion of values through a historical experience of political subjugation. Its antithesis had always been the classical Herren-Moral, the morality of the masters (to quote, the Romans), to whom “virtue wasvirtus –manhood, courage, enterprise, bravery.”[1] The Jews (and Asia), owing to their historical political subjection by the masters, bred the morality of the herd – of humility and altruism, he thought. In Nietszche’s own words: “The significance of the Jewish people lies in this inversion of values (which includes using the word for “poor” as a synonym for “holy” and “friend”): the slave revolt in morality begins with the Jews.”[2] This revolt was epitomized in Jesus’ teaching with whom “every man was of equal worth, and had equal rights.”[3] It birthed doctrines of democracy and utilitarianism, and dismissed the masters from the stage. Nietszche’s solution was to revive the Herrenspirit, to prepare the world for the dawn of the Super-man, and this could only be through “a revaluation of values whose new pressure and hammer will steel a conscience and transform a heart into bronze to bear the weight of a responsibility like this.”[4] It was only the man of a steel conscience, of a Herren spirit, who would redefine morals and lead the world into a brave, new utopian era. G. K. Chesterton gave a classic response to this Herren ideal in his Heretics (1905): “when Nietszche says, ‘A new commandment I give to you, “be hard,”’ he is really saying, ‘A new commandment I give to you, “be dead.”’ Sensibility is the definition of life.”[5] The two World Wars did show how far Herren morality could get us.

To be poor means to be destitute, to be down to earth, to be common. Jesus’ metaphor of the common salt is a strong analogy. The Christian is the salt of the earth. To a great extent, however, the world, usually, only sees the ghostly negative of this image. It sees the Christian as arrogant, intolerant, holier-than-thou, Herren. They are judgmental, condemning, and pharisaic in religious posture. Then, to another greater extent, there are the Christians who see themselves as marginalized, rejected, and dependent, as if not “of the earth” – they almost withdraw themselves from the earth and lay hopes on “the kingdom of heaven”. Both the images are antithetical to the image of Kingdom virtue that Christ has drawn for us. Christ’s call is not to withdrawal but to active engagement in order to transform the world after the pattern of heaven. But, the form of the engagement is not to be hail and brimstone-like; it is to be salt-like. And, it can only be done by those who are “poor in the spirit.” The snob doesn’t engage, because he is encaged in his own presumptions. He is a smug, a Pharisee. He is opaque to the earth; he is at war with himself and the rest. He lives within the walls of security and practices hit and run conquest strategy. His inauthentic spirituality is belied by his return to his four walls of self-concern (or unconcern). He belongs neither to earth nor to heaven. He belongs to nobody. He knows no one. The poor in spirit, however, is destitute of such protective amenities. He is homeless, naked, and hungry – he is open to the earth. He has embraced the open sky and the open earth alike. To him belongs the kingdom of heaven.

Pulsation of Life


“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted”

We ha­ve already seen Chesterton’s critique of Nietzsche’s insensibility morality. Weeping is seen as a feminine quality by the world. It is the mark of weakness and helplessness. It is unmanly. To be a man means to be devoid of tears. But, the New Testament gives a counter picture of God. God is capable of both joy and sorrow. The shortest verse in the KJV English Bible is John 11:35 and it says: “Jesus wept.” The Perfect Man wept.

Mourning involves a sense of losing someone precious. It is interpersonal. It takes an extreme contraction of sensitivity to squeeze those warm tears out of the warm life-blood. A Christian cannot succumb to cold numbness. Salt melts the snow. “Sensibility is the definition of life.” When Jesus wept, Lazarus came to life.

There is a difference between mourning and complaining. A complainer is self-possessive; a mourner is bereft of self. Mourning is a virtue; it is divine. Mourning is salvific. The Bible calls us to mourn the evil that is rampant among those who claim to know Christ (1Cor. 5). Even if it were one person blatantly living a Christ-unlike lifestyle, the Church is called to mourn. If she doesn’t, the leaven will leaven the whole lump of dough.[6] Mourning demonstrates that the mourner is still alive.

The world is immersed in a single quest to laugh away sin in the theatres of comedy. It’s a morbid form of escapism. It is the hallmark of irrational hedonism. This is where philosophy bleeds in the hands of jokers. The laughing philosopher is a paradox in term for sure. The laughing philosopher must suffer the toothache to stop laughing; for, philosophy begins with the toothache.[7] The laugher dismisses sin as a joke, and is as dangerous as a madman.[8]

Complaining would also not help. There is enough complaining about sin in the camp; there isn’t enough mourning. Therefore, there isn’t any comfort. To complain is to say, “Away with you!” To mourn is to say, “I’ve lost you, but I need you back!” That is the pulse of mission. That was what Jonah had to learn. Mourning proceeds from love. And, there is comfort in love.

Posture of Strength


“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”

Again, the idea is revolutionary. Doesn’t the world treat “meekness” and “weakness” as siblings? The lamb is never a picture of triumph; images of triumph have lions and horses in them. The lamb belongs to the Herden and not to the Herren. But, it is the meek that will inherit the earth, says Jesus. How can a lamb inherit the earth? It doesn’t seem so. But in our times, someone did take Jesus’ teachings too seriously, and at practical lengths, more than the Christians do, and proved Jesus was true. It was Mahatma Gandhi – the rest is history.

Of course, faith in God is pivotal to this world-view of meek inheriting the earth. The lambs left to themselves, without a shepherd, will soon be torn to shreds by the violent and voracious wolves. In the Darwinian world of things, violent self-assertion is what defines the essence of morality: struggle for existence and survival of the fittest.[9] There might becomes right. But, in God’s world, the earth is God’s inheritance passed on to the meek. In fact, if there weren’t God, there wouldn’t be lambs or wolves either.

Meekness is an attitude of humility and trust. It is founded on truth and genuine sincerity. It proceeds from a right understanding of oneself and one’s place in God’s world. It is not the result of an inferiority complex. A person with an inferiority complex is insecure and raises walls of distrust around him, often shooting at those who appear close to the walls. Meekness, of course, is also not the result of a superiority complex. It can’t be. Meekness is the result of a healthy and right complex. Meekness is strength decked with discretion. It is the meek who find favor with friends, teachers, employers, and people. The arrogant and rebellious are avoided. The meek will inherit the earth.

Passion for the Right


Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

The modern world is engrossed with this strange malady of utilitarianism. Right and wrong are a matter of relative and personal preference. Sin or piety is a matter of convenience. One is free to condemn or absolve based on the demand of the situation. If man has learnt anything from the wise men, it is this that he can play politics with truth, he can go on a fling with sin. The result is a confused, broken, and increasingly distrustful world, where the salt has lost its saltiness and has become useless for any meaningful covenant. We are left with no salt at all.

The malady has also invaded the Temple violating the walls of sanctity and murdering both conscience and pure appetite. While outside the walls, a few agitators have become sensitive to righteousness and are running campaigns to eliminate corruption from the secular world, within the walls corruption breeds profusely and thrives in the bosom of “holy” (or “holey”) men; and, who can question? – If a “minister” is in a privileged position, then should he be accountable to any man? The modern sage is too sophisticated to renounce self and bear his cross. Those are archaic ideas. He is too modern to imitate St. Paul. He dreams of luxury and boasts of influence. He preaches prosperity and justifies affluence. He is too air-borne that he has become too light for the Spirit of God to take him seriously anymore. The “manifestations” are mere stage shows. The modern “sage” has a price-tag. The universe is not a free-lunch after all. He is a slave to the demand-supply mechanism of this world. He hires and fires and is hired and fired in return. He buys titles and sells titles dishonestly, and assumes God is a little blind or his accomplice perhaps. He can’t be a servant of righteousness anymore.

The Voice in the wilderness still cries: “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise…Collect no more than what is appointed for you….Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages….I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:11-16). Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

Potion of Healing


Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

The cry of a villain, say the theatres, is “No mercy!” The hero might oft times forgive the villain and shock him into a remorse. “To err is human, to forgive divine” wrote Alexander Pope in his Essay on Criticism (1709). The whole impulse of the epigram is that the rod of criticism (or judgment) must be held in the hands of mercy.

Mercy involves a sense of justice. An act is not merciful unless it involves a full assessment of the just cost involved. A dacoit who has a victim at hand, but lets him go, has not shown mercy; he has only kept himself from a crime. He might say that he had shown mercy from his own contorted sense of what is right for him and wrong (the criminal usually thinks that the victim deserves the violence); but, his warped world of reference is itself in the criminal trough condemned by justice.[10]

Here is the paradigm: Only he who can hold the rod of justice can show mercy; only the hands of mercy must hold the rod of justice. Mercy is a positive virtue. To show mercy doesn’t just mean to renounce punishing someone for the wrong he/she has done; it also means to forgive. This can’t be possible without love. Therefore, the spring of mercy is true love.

It is not just enough to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sinned against us”; the prayer must be substantiated by action. An act of mercy is not easily forgotten; a merciful personality has an indelible impact. Teachers and professors in the academies who have been merciful to their students leave an indelible impression. Mercy brings healing. It is the merciful who are remembered. It is the merciful who will be shown mercy.

Power of Purity


Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

In 1973, the American psychiatrist, Karl Menninger wrote Whatever Became of Sin? in which he deplored the disappearance of the word and concept of sin from both everyday life and the pulpit. Psychiatry had somehow contributed to this. However, Menninger noted that not everything about human behavior can be classified under “neurotic” or “healthy”; there was a class of actions that had to be definitely called “sin”. But, in place of that word, evasive words such as “disease”, “antisocial behavior”, and “lack of moral development” had come into function. He wrote, “I believe there is ‘sin’ which is expressed in ways that cannot be subsumed . . . as ‘crime,’ ‘disease,’ ‘delinquency,’ ‘deviancy.’ There is immorality; there is unethical behavior; there is wrong doing. And I hope to show that there is usefulness in retaining the concept, and indeed the SIN, which now shows some signs of returning to public acceptance.”[11] Menninger’s book became a bestseller and his call was widely received by psychiatrists. At Yale University, Stephen Fleck, MD, reviewed the book saying:

Dr. Menninger’s crusading fervor may not suit every reader, and this book could be considered “unscientific” because its data base is our everyday life and living, not only information from the analyst’s couch or the laboratory. I would disagree with such criticism if only because scientists, like most citizens don’t like to pay attention to our everyday sins, despite the currently fashionable concern with ethics. As the author points out, not only do we ignore sin at our peril and possibly that of the human race, but understanding our sinful ways allows for the possibility, the chance, the hope, that we also can behave differently.[12]

Desisting from recognizing sin as sin has severe psychological consequences for sure. It bundles up to sociological aftereffects as well. While Menninger wrote from the perspective of a psychiatrist and saw sin as a sane and volitional act of moral revolt, the Bible adds a proper dimension to it by calling sin as a revolt against God. Sin is the antithesis of divine holiness; and, the Bible affirms that without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).

Christian theology has lines of thinking in it that discourage hope in the possibility of holy life on this earth. Such thinking is skeptical of holiness as a possibility in this life. There is that great contention concerning whether entire sanctification is possible or impossible in this world. Such lines of thinking go against the divine calling and introduce skepticism and distrust among the children of God. One is forever unsure about the other’s intention for he/she is ruled by the belief that purity is an impossibility in any instance. Disbelief is tantamount to defeat. One has to believe in the genuineness of the Lord’s call to holiness in order to look up to Him for strength to live the pure life. Only those who obey the Lord in this are blessed and will see God.

Panacea of the World


Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Peace is the talk of the hour today. Governments talk of peace. The Universities offer courses on Peace Studies. The most popular book that Billy Graham wrote was Peace with God (1953). The world is in need of peace.

Peace means the extermination of animosity, of enmity, of hostility, and of fear. The children of God are called to be the agents of peace in this broken and insecure world. But, the only way they could be agents of peace in the world is when they first have peace among themselves. “Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another,” said Jesus (Mark 9:50). Peace is the capstone of unity and harmony. It adorns the hall of diversity. It is the quality of recognizing and respecting the differences without allowing the differences to turn us against each other. It is the ability to agree to disagree. It doesn’t mean compromise. It means casting off the armors of war and coming down to live in constructive cooperation with each other. It means beating the swords in plowshares (Isa. 2:4). A house divided cannot stand. “United we stand, divided we fall.”

The ground of peace is the work of the Son of God on the Cross of Calvary. He is our peace (Eph.2:14). Through His ultimate sacrifice on the Cross, He has left the world no more reason to be at war with itself and God. He provided the rationale and the ministry of reconciliation (2Cor.5:18). Therefore, those who have trusted in Him are called to be peacemakers in this world, they will be the harbingers of the gospel of peace; such shall be called sons of God.

True blessedness rests in the bosom of those who have learnt from the Master to beat their swords into plowshares, get into the murky ground, in touch, in all humility, purity, and truth, and work to make the world a better place.




[1] Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (NY: Pocket Books, 1953), p.420
[2] Friedrich Nietszche, Beyond Good and Evil (originally published in 1886; trans. Judith Norman, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p.84
[3] Durant, The Story of Philosophy, p.420
[4] Nietszche, Beyond Good and Evil, pp.91-92
[5] G. K. Chesterton, Heretics, 1905. Gutenberg.org
[6] In response to the Houston Pastor Joel Osteen’s answer to the question “Would you attend a same-sex wedding ceremony?” to which he is said to have replied that he would if the wedding involved friends, Albert Mohler, Jr. the President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote: “You cannot celebrate what you say you know to be sin.” Osteen, of course, had earlier stated that he could not perform a same-sex marriage since he believed homosexuality is sin. Mohler clarified, “You cannot honestly say that same-sex marriage defies the law of God, and then join in the celebration of that ceremony.” AlbertMohler, “Would You Attend A Same Sex Wedding?” October 18, 2011. Albertmohler.com
[7] Domenic Marbaniang, “The Laughing Philosopher and the Significance of Truth in Belief”, Dec. 19, 2007. Marbaniang.com. Cf. “Contrary to what Shakespeare said, it is the tooth-ache experience, the reality of pain that makes one a philosopher.” “Beyond the Shadows,” Light of Life (Mumbai, August 2008), p.59. The title “the Laughing Philosopher” was originally used for Democritus, who is known as the philosopher who laughed at human follies.
[8] “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, “I was only joking!” (Pro 26:18-19)
[9] Cf. “Social Darwinism came to see human progress as dependent on competition. According to it, the fittest among humans survive. This influenced the eugenics movement which aimed at improving the quality of human population through selective breeding. Both Nazism and Fascism found in Darwinism their bases. The Nazis used the ‘survival of fittest’ principle as developed in the eugenics movement to justify their extermination of Jewish population and other ethnic groups. Thus, Darwinism influenced an anthropological perspective in which the breed became more important than the individual, while war and violence were justified as integral to the struggle for existence.” Domenic Marbaniang, Philosophy of Science: A Short Introduction (Lulu Publishing, 2011), p.28
[10] It is, however, possible that a person in a position to hurt another can desist from such action when his bowels of compassion are stirred, which would be the sign of good triumphing over evil. Compassion is an act of “feeling along with” someone (com+passion); it involves the sense of human solidarity. But, mercy involves the sense of justice.
[11] As cited by Albert Mohler in “The Disappearance of Sin-A Flight from Reality”, www.christianity.com, accessed on June 18, 2012.
[12] Am J Public Health. 1974 December; 64(12), p. 1167

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