You Be The Judge

Did I pass or fail the test of my own making? You be the judge.

However, before judging me, maybe you’ll join me.

This week I read the extraordinarily familiar beatitudes. They are the first notes, a kind of fanfare, to the symphony of Matthew’s fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters, also known as Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” After reading the eight beatitudes—or are there nine?—I wondered: “What if tomorrow, I tried to recall all the ‘tudes?” Since I was the teacher setting the rules for me the student, I made sure I didn’t look at Matthew again and also decided to give myself a minute (tick, tick, tick) to jot down what I remembered.

The 4th Sunday after Epiphany – for January 30, 2011

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying . . .  (Matthew 5:1-2)

Decision time for you! If you think you know the blessings Jesus spoke of in Matthew . . . quickly turn from your computer and list them right now. Don’t dawdle. And it’s not an open book test. Then come back and see how well, or how poorly, I did.

First, let’s confront the “tude” count. Most scholarly types claim eight. They stop at verse ten and the “blessed are those who are persecuted . . .” But isn’t there one more blessing? Sure it’s repetitive (another reference to persecution), but verse eleven does begin with “Blessed are . . .” and also adds a unique twist. Let’s go with nine.

Secondly, most Christians have read Jesus’ beatitudes many times. Indeed, I once memorized not only the ‘tudes, but the entire “Sermon on the Mount” for an Easter homily. More on that later. However, anyone who survived a dose of Sunday school or has nestled in the corner of a pew “knows” these verses. They’re also used in films, novels, and songs. Thus, reading them on one day and taking a “test” the next day is a tad disingenuous.

Finally, here’s what I jotted on a slip of paper, in order:

Poor in spirit
Seek righteousness

The 60 seconds ticked by. I tallied seven.

I’m fascinated by what I forgot.

I didn’t write down any version of “Blessed are you when people revile you . . .” Granted, it’s the suspicious ninth beatitude, more like the Pluto of ‘tudes. Still, I’m troubled by revile’s absence. Maybe it’s been too long since my faith was reviled. The last full-throttle reviling occurred from participating in a high-profile Holy Union over a decade ago. A colleague celebrated a marriage between two women and invited other clergy to join. The act recognized the couple’s love along with being a witness to the United Methodist Church’s hypocrisy. Many disagreed with it then. Many might disagree with it now. Regardless, once folks in my community discovered I’d assisted with a same-gender ceremony, I got gnarly letters, crabby phone calls, and—all ‘tudes considered—was bluntly reviled.

Perhaps as my judge you’ll be merciful, counting the ninth blessing as a bonus answer. It won’t affect my grade. Therefore, I got 7 out of 8 (87.5%!!). If “poor in spirit” is the 1st official blessing and “persecuted” is the 8th, I only missed #6: Pure in heart.

Arrrgh! I missed #6 because I felt the pressure of time. I missed it because my short-term memory is too short. I missed it because . . .

Remember me mentioning I’d recited the Sermon on the Mount for an Easter message? When I reminisce about the effort, I know it proved to be a helpful personal Lenten discipline. During the forty days, I learned and discerned Matthew’s potent words. I also know I desired to place before the congregation, on the most special of Sundays, scripture without interpretation from me, unfettered verses which represented many essential truths within our shared faith.

And yet, awful truth be told, I lusted to WOW! my congregation. Ain’t Larry sumthin’, he memorized every verse! What a brilliant ‘tude dude!

Not so “pure in heart,” eh? No wonder I forgot it!

I also make snide comments about folks behind their backs, dwell on my weaknesses and downplay my strengths, and could easily draft (say, in 60 seconds?) a long list of people I resent or envy or both.

Not so “pure in heart,” eh? No wonder I forgot it!

Well, you be the judge. No, you’re not! The eight (or nine) blessings aren’t about a superior person judging an inferior person. They also aren’t a self-help quiz to take and then to claim: mission accomplished (or failed). I believe an enduring truth of the ‘tudes is that they are daily challenges for each person of faith. On my impure days, I’ll pretend to forget them. On my better days, one or more of them will help deepen my relationship with God and my neighbor. I don’t think I’ll ever “achieve” any of them, and I pray I will never stop trying to embrace all eight (or nine) of them.

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    1. Hey Dan! That’s right, you were riding a pew when I Sermon-on-the-Mounted in lovely Willits. And you survived the experience. By the way, are you busy on Feb. 6? I hear a team from Pittsburgh is playing a game (which might be televised) somewhere in Texas. I could be wrong, though. In my family, we pray . . . Go Packers!

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