For about twenty years now Wiley Publishing has been producing the tremendously successful “… for Dummies” series of titles. My first experience was “Windows for Dummies.” My latest is “iPhone 5 for Dummies.” The secret of their success is to make intimidating subjects approachable… cutting through the technical jargon and “dumbing down” the core concepts to their absolute essentials in a non-threatening, “how to” format. That’s exactly what Jesus does for us in this week’s gospel.
The Beatitudes take their name from the Latin: “beatitudo”… a state of bliss, a feeling of supreme happiness. In the Beatitudes, to be blessed means to be joyful. But it means much more than that. It’s not just a temporary euphoric rush. It is the enduring, existential state of serenity found only in harmony with the will of God. In nine simple how-to steps, Jesus lays out how we can find that harmony with God. Nothing fancy, nothing obscure, just Christianity for Dummies… a shortcut for folks intimidated by the vast canon of our beliefs. The words come not from a Church Father or a theologian, but right from the heart of Jesus, cutting through any confusion or reluctance. Jesus tells us: You want to follow me. You want to be a Christian. Here’s how to do it. Now get going: for your reward is great in heaven.
Let’s sample this far-from-secret formula for happiness. The first Beatitude is: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Right out of the box, Jesus takes on the bane of humanity, the source of original sin and subsequently most of the world’s mischief… the mighty I am… the poor little me… the ego run wild…the gimme I deserve it… human pride in all its perverse permutations. If you think that you are such hot stuff that you deserve the kingdom of heaven, you’d better guess again. If you think your powerful intellect is the arbiter of right and wrong, you’re in big trouble. Humility is the only highway to heaven. Do what Christ says. Do what he does. He is God’s love in the world, here in total submission to the will of the Father. He is poor in spirit… unassuming, reaching out to the powerless, the despised, the broken. He’s not slumming. He’s not sampling the local color. He’s teaching us. This is his life. It must be ours, if we would follow him… all the way home to the kingdom of heaven. Got it? Now do it.
Let’s jump ahead in Christ’s instructions, all the way to the last Beatitude: Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Up front, Jesus lets us know that following him won’t be a day at the beach. Yes we will have the joyful serenity of living in God’s love, but everyone is not going to be thrilled by that idea. Live by the Beatitudes and you can expect lots and lots of push back. The proud, the greedy, the lustful, the angry will never be content to let us humbly pursue our salvation in peace. Christian virtue is a window into God’s will. It takes the fun out of all those delicious vices. Actively or passively expect to be marginalized, to be reviled, to be persecuted. But know too, that when you are abused you are blessed: For your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
In this week’s Epistle, Paul tells us: Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world? The Beatitudes turn worldly wisdom on its head and make it a pretty smart to be a dummy for Christ.