The Gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday — The Feast of All Saints Day — with food for thought on meekness, lament and the thirst for justice. Gnaw away!
All Saints Sunday: Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountainside, and after he sat down and the disciples had gathered around, Jesus began to teach them:
“Blessed are those who are poor in spirit: the kin-dom of heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those who are mourning: they will be consoled.
Blessed are those who are gentle: they will inherit the land.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice: they will have their fill.
Blessed are those who show mercy to others: they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are those whose hearts are clean: they will see God.
Blessed are those who work for peace: they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of their struggle for justice: the kin-dom of heaven is theirs.
“You are fortunate when others insult you and persecute you, and utter every kind of slander against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward in heaven is great; they persecuted the prophets before you in the very same way.”
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
We break out of the cycle of Matthew we are in for one week for one of the major feasts of the church year — All Saints Day. All Saints Day is officially observed on Wednesday, Nov. 1, but as a major feast it is permissible to move it to the next Sunday. We are doing that and celebrating it as we always do with a solemn Eucharist with incense and sung requiem.
If the reading for All Saints in Year A of the lectionary seems familiar, it’s because we’ve already heard it this year in Epiphany. We’re way back in the first big section of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). This section begins with an important distinction between the disciples and the crowd (“the crowd” is a key player in Matthew — through to their hailing him as he enters Jerusalem and their cries of “Crucify him” before Pilate). Jesus sees the crowd, but it is the disciples who (in full view of the crowd) come to him. For the crowd, Jesus is a curiosity and one on whom to project their hopes and desires. For a disciple, Jesus is one on whom Christ is projected … one who becomes the Body of Christ.
Jesus begins this sermon with the Beatitudes (literally “the blesseds”). Volumes have been written on them. They are usually seen as a summary of discipleship, an ethic that the new beloved, Christian community is supposed to live by just as the commandments Moses delivered from the mountain were proscriptive for the Jewish community. They are an ethic that is in contrast to most of the way the world works … and further emphasize the distance between those who are disciples of Jesus and those who follow the ways of the world and observe and even admire Jesus from a distance.
A few things to chew on:
*We read the Beatitudes on All Saints Day because the Saints we celebrated are those who have committed their lives to Christ. All Saints are all those who have had the courage to be different, to stand apart from the crowd … notice that Jesus sees the crowd, but only the disciples follow Jesus up the mountain. The Beatitudes tell us not only what it means to separate ourselves from the crowd and follow Jesus (“hunger and thirst for justice,” “show mercy” have “clean hearts,” etc.) but also what we can expect to happen to us when we do — be insulted, persecuted and slandered.. But through it all the chorus resounds. Through it all we can trust that God is with us, blessing us, loving us — and that we can rejoice and be glad.
*Meekness – in the translation we use, it’s translated as “gentleness” — is one of the most misunderstood of the Beatitudes because most people equate meek with being a doormat. I find this take on meekness from John of Sinai, a 7th century monk, and worth considering:
“Meekness is a mind consistent amid honor and dishonor. Meekness prays quietly and sincerely for a neighbor, however troublesome he may be. Meekness is a rock looking out over the sea of anger which breaks the waves
which come crashing on it and stays entirely unmoved. Meekness is the bulwark of patience, the door, indeed the mother of love, and the foundation of discernment. For it is said, ‘The Lord will teach his ways to the meek.’ And it is meekness that earns pardon for our sins, gives confidence to our prayers and makes a place for the Holy Spirit. As it stands in the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘To whom shall I look if not to the meek and the peaceful?’
“Meekness works alongside obedience; it guides a religious community, checks frenzy, curbs anger. it is a minister of joy, an imitation of Christ, the possession of angels, a shackle for demons, a shield against bitterness. The Lord finds rest in the hearts of the meek, while the turbulent spirit is the home of the devil, for ‘the meek shall inherit the earth.'”
How can we cultivate meekness in ourselves? Where do we see meekness in our community. How can we strive to have this definition of meekness be what characterizes us as a All Saints Church community?
“You are fortunate when others insult you and persecute you, and utter every kind of slander against you because of me.”
It’s easy for us to fall into thinking that because we deeply believe in the rightness of our actions that we should be immune from sanction for them. It can be born out of a deep sense that righteousness should be rewarded and not punished, but Jesus is saying something very different here.
Jesus is saying that when we follow him we should not only expect persecution, we should welcome it. Think about that. We should welcome persecution. Not out of a sense of self-righteousness, but out a place of
humility, knowing that our willingness to embrace persecution is the most powerful witness we can offer to following a Christ who walked the road to the cross and beyond.
This week take some time each morning to read the Beatitudes and think about the situations that have been emerging in your life. Where do you have an opportunity — big or small — to follow Jesus in a way that might
involve persecution? What would taking that bold step look like, even welcoming the persecution? What can you do each day to, even a little bit, follow Jesus in this way?
Obey your thirst.
That was an ad campaign for a soft drink several years ago. It was pretty much a testament to the power of instant gratification … and when set up against the Beatitudes it creates an interesting challenge. Jesus says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.” What would it look like to obey that thirst?
This week as you journal, listen for your thirst. Where do you thirst for justice? What would it look like to obey that thirst … obey it with the same singlemindedness of when you can’t think of anything but that nice, cold drink on a scorching hot day? Write about that!
“Blessed are those who are mourning: they will be consoled.”
On Holy Saturday, 2015, I took part in a “Mourners March” in St. Louis. We gathered in a local park – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends and lovers and supporters of people who had been killed by police in the past several years.
It was billed as a protest, and it was. But it was more than that – it was lament. Lament is an ancient practice – we see it throughout scripture – where a people express their deep sorrow and mourning. It is the sorrow of grieving a loss. It is the sorrow of the pain they are feeling … and also the sorrow for the brokenness that brought that pain about.
Lament is ancient and holy and scriptural. The Psalms are full of lament. There is an entire book in the Hebrew Bible called Lamentations.
One person can lament, but really, lament is bigger than any one person because the pain of grief, the pain of loss, is something common to us all as human beings.
We marched in lament. The same way that many did the night after Michael Brown was murdered. And just as that night, a community in mourning was met with police with dogs and rubber bullets and tear gas; during this march we were followed by the police who kept informing us through bullhorns that if we did not get out of the street (despite the fact that we were not blocking traffic) that we would be subject to arrest.
The message was clear – Your grief, your mourning … there is no room for that here.
Mourning … lamenting … these are important parts of life. In the words of John Green, “Feelings demand to be felt.” When the deep pain of lament is not allowed to be expressed … when it is not met with compassion. When, in the words of the Beatitudes, it is not blessed … it will fester and turn into anger, and hatred, and even deeper pain.
This memory of lament suppressed came back to me a couple weeks ago as I sat in the living room of a friend, Rabbi Jonathan Klein, who was grieving the death of his mother. In the Jewish tradition, after the death of a loved one, there is a period of shiva. It is an opportunity for the community to gather around the mourners, love them, provide a community in which those feelings can be felt, prayers can be said, stories can be told, tears can be shed and even screams can be wailed.
As I sat in Jonathan and Tera’s living room praying, I was overcome not only by the deep feeling of love but by the contrast between this mourner’s vigil and the march in St. Louis several years ago. The pain was still the same. There were deep feelings that needed to be felt. But in one place space was created and in the other place space was denied.
Jesus says “Blessed are those who are mourning.” Mourning is a blessing. Even more, a community of consolation that receives that mourning and holds it close to its heart.
What laments do we have? What feelings do we have that demand to be felt? How can we bless the laments of our hearts and the laments of one another? How can we cry without fear? How can we hold each other through the longest and darkest of nights? How can we be this Beatitude for each other and for the world?
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Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings
The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every Sunday – just click here.
Collect for Sunday: Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Want to read more? “The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.
Gnaw on This is a weekly feature published by All Saints Church and written by Mike Kinman.