Richard Rohr: Sermon on Mount: Description of a Free Life

 For ancient people, salt was an important preservative, seasoning, and symbol of healing. What does Jesus mean by such an image?

First, he’s not saying that those who live this way are going to heaven. He is saying that they will be gift for the earth. We think of Jesus’ teaching as prescriptions for getting to heaven (even though we haven’t followed them). Instead, the Sermon on the Mount is a set of descriptions of a free life.

Jesus’ moral teaching is very often a description of the final product rather than a detailed process for getting there. When you can weep, when you can identify with the little ones, when you can make peace, when you can be persecuted and still be joyful . . . then you’re doing it right. He is saying, as it were, this is what holiness looks like. When you act this way, “The Kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). Jesus doesn’t seem to be concerned about control, enforcement, or uniformity.

.. If Christians—Jesus’ self-proclaimed followers—no longer believe the Gospel, if we no longer believe in nonviolence and powerlessness, then who’s going to convert us? We’re supposed to be the leaven of the world, yet if we no longer believe in the Gospel, what hope do we have of offering anything new to anyone?

.. “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better” is one of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s core principles.

Richard Rohr Meditation: Blessed Are the Persecuted

Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of justice: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. —Matthew 5:10

I guess we should not be surprised that this Beatitude follows the previous ones. The first and last Beatitudes are present tense: Theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Until this statement, Jesus has said “happy are the . . .,” speaking generally. Now he says happy are “those of you. . . .” Very likely Matthew is conveying that this scene is happening directly in front of Jesus. His small community is being persecuted, and Jesus tells them to “rejoice and be glad”! Persecution for the cause of justice is inevitable. Instead of seeking to blame someone for their well-earned scars, he is telling them two clear things: You can be happy—and you can be happy now!

Richard Rohr Meditation: Blessed Are the Peacemakers

War is a means of seeking control, not a means of seeking peace. Pax Romana is the world’s way of seeking control and calling it peace. In ancient times, the citizens who lived in the city of Rome thought they had peace. Violence, you see, will always create more violence. It is not real peace. As Pope Paul VI reflected, “If you want peace, work for justice.”

Richard Rohr Meditation: Blessed Are Those Who Hunger for Justice

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice: they shall have their fill. —Matthew 5:6

This Beatitude is surely both spiritual and social. Most Bibles to this day soften this Beatitude: “hunger and thirst for what is right” or “for righteousness” are the more common faulty translations. But the word in Greek clearly means “justice.” Notice that the concept of justice is used halfway through the Beatitudes and again at the very end. The couplet emphasizes an important point: To live a just life in this world is to identify with the longings and hungers of the poor, the meek, and those who weep. This identification and solidarity is in itself a profound form of social justice.

Richard Rohr Meditation: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

The Syrian Fathers Ephrem and Simeon weren’t as familiar in Western Christianity as the Greek and Latin Fathers after the early centuries of the Church. The Greek and Latin Fathers tended to filter the Gospel through the head; the Syrian Fathers’ theology was much more localized in the body. They actually proposed that tears be a sacrament in the Church. Saint Ephrem went so far as to say until you have cried you don’t know God.

..  Yet corporeal, embodied theology acknowledges that perhaps weeping will allow us to know God much better than ideas. In this Beatitude, Jesus praises those who can enter into solidarity with the pain of the world and not try to remove or isolate themselves from its suffering. This is why Jesus says the rich person often can’t see the Kingdom, because they spend too much time trying to make tears unnecessary and even impossible.

Jesus describes those who grieve as feeling the pain of the world. Weeping over our sin and the sin of the world is an entirely different response than self-hatred or hatred of others. Grief allows one to carry the dark side, to bear the pain of the world without looking for perpetrators or victims, but instead recognizing the tragic reality that both sides are caught up in. Tears from God are always for everyone, for our universal exile from home. “It is Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted” (Jeremiah 31:15). I am grateful that the new emergence of hospice work, bereavement ministries, and formal “grief work” seems to indicate we are beginning to understand this. In Men’s Rites of Passage, the “day of grief” is often the turning point toward a man’s initiation. Men finally discover that so much of what they thought was anger was actually sadness, loss, and grief. [2]

Tears seem ridiculous in a culture like ours which is so focused on diversions and entertainment, and are especially a stumbling block to men. Crying will make us look vulnerable. So many men hold back tears. Is it no wonder men don’t live as long as women, on average? We must teach all young people how to cry. Now, in my later years, I finally understand why Saints Francis and Clare cried so much, and why the saints spoke of “the gift of tears.”

Richard Rohr Meditation: Blessed Are the Gentle

Blessed are the gentle [or the meek, humble, non-violent, unassuming]: they shall have the earth as inheritance. —Matthew 5:5

This Beatitude is a quote from Psalm 37:11: “the humble shall have the land for their own.” Some translate it “the nonviolent.” The translation perhaps most familiar is “the meek.” It is the unique power of the powerless, which people who have always had power never understand. It is claimed by Mary in her famous Magnificat where she mirrors and models the many “barren” women in the Hebrew Scriptures: “God has looked upon me in my lowliness. . . . God fills the starving with good things” (Luke 1:48, 53). She represented the pivotal biblical theme of “the poor of Yahweh” (anawim), taught especially by the prophets Zephaniah (2:3) and Zechariah (9:9). Surely Mary and Joseph modeled this stance for Jesus as a child. Their offering of two turtle doves at his presentation in the temple (Luke 2:24), which was the offering of the landless peasantry, reveals their social place in Jewish society.

If there was one hated group in Palestine of Jesus’ day, it was landlords, those who possess the land. Nobody possessed land except by violence, by oppression, by holding onto it and making all the peasants pay a portion of their harvest. Jesus is turning that around and saying no, it’s you little ones who are finally going to possess the land. I can hear implicit critique in his voice, but also hope.

Richard Rohr: A Spirituality of the Beatitudes

In the Franciscan reading of the Gospel, there is no reason to be religious or to “serve” God except “to love greatly the One who has loved us greatly,” as Saint Francis said. [1] Religion is not about heroic will power or winning or being right. This has been a counterfeit for holiness in much of Christian history.

.. While the Ten Commandments are about creating social order (a good thing), the eight Beatitudes of Jesus are all about incorporating what seems like disorder, a very different level of consciousness. With the Beatitudes, there is no social or ego payoff for the false self. Obeying the Commandments can appeal to our egotistic consciousness and our need to be “right” or better than others.

.. Obedience to the Ten Commandments does give us the necessary impulse control and containment we need to get started, which is foundational to the first half of life. “I have kept all these from my youth,” the rich young man says, before he then refuses to go further (Mark 10:22).

The Beatitudes, however, reveal a world of pure grace and abundance, or what Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory would call the second tier of consciousness and what I call second-half-of-life spirituality.

His actual life and practice show how he deliberately undercut the entire “honor/shame system” on which so much of culture, violence, false self-esteem, and even many of the ministrations of church depends. Doing anything and everything solely for God is certainly the most purifying plan for happiness I can imagine. It changes the entire nature of human interaction and eliminates most conflict.