Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Zephaniah 2:3;3:12-13
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Matthew 5:1-12a


January 29-30, 2005 Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

There's a Peanuts cartoon, one of those that starts with Lucy in her 5-cent psychologist booth, and Charlie Brown has stopped by to ask for advice.

"Life is like a deck chair, Charlie," she says with that look of worldly wisdom. "On the cruise ship of life, some people place their deck chair at the rear of the ship so they can see where they've been. Others place their deck chair at the front of the ship to see where they're going." Lucy looks at her client with his familiar rumpled look of puzzlement, and asks, "Well, Charlie, which way is your deck chair facing?" Charlie glumly replies, "I can't even get my deck chair unfolded."

These beatitudes from Jesus Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel are some of the most well know scripture passages, and not just to Christians. But despite the fact that I have heard them countless times, and even preached on them a number of times, I recently came across another way of looking at them that was completely new. Like deck chairs on cruise ships, we can understand the beatitudes as either looking forward to where we are going or as looking backward to see where we have been.

Most of us would understand the blessing part of the beatitudes as looking back. Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. We think of these statements as Jesus telling those who have lived their life in a way that developed poverty of spirit, or meekness, or mercy, or who have experienced a lack of righteousness that because of where they come from, they are blessed. Of course thinking about the beatitudes this way is a challenge to our normal way of thinking about what it means to be blessed. Normally when we hear someone say they are blessed it means that life is treating them pretty well: they are well fed and well clothed and well housed and they are in good health. In fact the Greek word that the author of Matthew’s gospel uses is makaroi, which in the vernacular of ancient Greek meant the ability of the rich to avoid the normal cares and worries of life. A macarism is taking pleasure at someone’s good fortune. So the irony of Jesus language is that he is turning the normal way of looking at things upside down. Luke’s version of the beatitudes is even starker: Blessed are the poor. How are the poor blessed? The in breaking of the Kingdom of God turns our idea of how things are on its ear. The poor are blessed, the leaders serve, the king offers himself as sacrifice, to win everything, we must lose our selves. These are not just ideals that Jesus does not expect the normal person to achieve. They are very accurate descriptions of Jesus’ approach to life. We see examples all around us that this is reality and that wealth and power and aggression always fail. Always. But we somehow still don’t get it. As G. K. Chesterton said, “It is not that the Christian way of life has been tried and found wanting; it is that the Christian life has been found hard and has been left untried.”

Back in the late 80’s a French Jewish bible scholar by the name of Andre Chouraqui produced a translation of the bible that tried to be as close to the original Aramaic that Jesus actually spoke. Chouraqui claims that the original word the author of Matthew’s gospel translated as makaroi had a meaning much closer to “en marche” in French: get up or walk on in English than it did “blessed”. Read with this sense, the beatitudes have a very different meaning and very much look forward to where we are going. Walk on you who are poor in spirit and you will have the kingdom of God. Walk on you who hunger and thirst for righteousness and you will be satisfied. Walk on you who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness and you will have the kingdom of heaven.

This sense of acting and seeking is very much consistent with traditional Jewish wisdom as expressed in that first reading from Zephaniah, and with Jesus who declares that he is the Way. The way that we are to walk on.

So whether you like to set your deck chair up at the front to see where you are going, or at the back to see where you have been, or like Charlie Brown, can’t even get your chair unfolded (maybe Charlie is a modern icon for those Jesus refers to as poor in spirit), there is wisdom for the taking in these teachings. Don’t buy the false promises the world makes. Thinking that it is worldly wisdom or strength or power or position or possessions leads us down the false path. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Walk on in that way, and you are blessed.


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