Contemporary Scripture Reflections for Spiritual Seekers
Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, BCC, PCC
November 1st, 2020
Excerpt from
Jesus the Holy Fool
Elizabeth-Anne Stewart

Jesus spoke not from tablets of stone but from the tablet of his heart; what he had to say was clear to those with ears to hear but incomprehensible to those who resisited it. Ausubel, in his chapter on "Holy Men," finds Jesus' emphases to be rabbinic in character: "almost all of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount find their counterparts in the Talmudic literature of that period, almost to the very expressions." In many ways, the Sermon on the Mount could be described as a summary of the whole Torah, an expansion of the Golden Rule. Rabbi Hillel, who lived in Jerusalem in the time of King Herod, is accredited with having been the originator of this Golden Rule: "Do not unto others what you do not wish that others do unto you. That is the whole Torah. Everything else is only a commentary." Jesus, then, spoke from within his tradition, pointing to the essence of Torah rather than to external observances. In another selection entitled, "Why Jerusalem Was Destroyed," Ausubel writes that certain sages in Israel claimed that the Holy City was laid waste "because her laws were founded upon the strict letter of the Torah and were not interpreted in the way of mercy and kindness." Jesus' teachings could be described as a reinterpretation of Torah according to mercy and kindness.
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  1. With which Beatitude do you most identify?
  2. Which Beatitude do you find the most challenging?
  3. In what ways are the Beatitudes counter-cultural?
  4. Can the Church simultaneously be the Church of the Beatitudes and the Church of the Establishment? If not, why not?
Greetings, Readers!

Walking along the Chicago River today, I noted new plywood barricades blocking access to banks and office high rises; at every bridge, snow ploughs have already taken up their positions, waiting for whatever next week will bring. The whole country is waiting, along with the rest of the world -- along with our allies, our foes, our trade partners; along with the stock market, investors, and creditors; along with business owners, manufacturers, and farmers; along with environmentalists, scientists, social justice advocates; along with asylum seekers, immigrants, international students and DACA recipients; along with those on Medicare and Medicaid, or those who rely on "Obama Care" for their medical needs; along with the unemployed, the hungry, the homeless; along with first responders, critical workers, and those working from home or studying online. Along with us-- all of us.

Regardless of political party, it seems that everyone is hoping for what is best, while fearing violence no matter who wins the election. We are in the dark, in the place of unknowing: Will there be a "stolen" election? Will the "loser" fail to concede defeat? Will all the ballots be counted? What about those ballots that have "gone missing" or the ballot boxes that have disappeared? What about all those armed militias and domestic terrorists?

What "happens" on Tuesday and the days following is completely out of our control. All we know is that we don't know, and in times of unknowing, the only solution is to pray.

Happy All Saints Day!

PS Try my spiritual self-assessment tool! After you take the Quiz, you will automatically receive a computer-generated diagram and explanatory comments regarding your strengths and "growing edges." I hope you find the Quiz useful!


“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.”
Mt 5:1-12a

"Abundance Spirituality" is based on the idea that if we accrue "good karma" by "doing good," then we will be rewarded in this lifetime with limitless wealth, health and status. Adherents of this belief see abundance as a sign of divine favor. Conversely, those facing deprivation, losses or physical maladies must be "accursed by God" for accruing "bad karma." Though today's Abundance gurus use TV and social media to attract large followings of donors and devotees, they are not a new phenomenon. So-called Christians used the "Abundance Theory" as a tool to enforce apartheid in South Africa and slavery in the United States. Their argument was that anyone who was white, wealthy and healthy had God's favor while anyone who didn't belong to these three categories would have to obey their "bosses" in this world in order to be worthy of their reward in the next. In this way, both slave owners and apartheid enforcers used religion to justify their cruelty and to control those in their power. Even at the time of Jesus, material well-being was seen as a sign of God's blessing, while anyone who suffered afflictions of any kind was considered to be a sinner.

The Beatitudes go beyond the minimal standards of human decency, turning upside down conventional values of what it means to be "blessed" by God. Commenting on the meaning of the Beatitudes, Leonardo Boff writes, "The norms of the Sermon on the Mount presuppose love, a new human person and one liberated for greater things" (Jesus Christ Liberator, 71). Sadly, in first world nations there are few Christians who are willing to live with child-like simplicity, entrusting themselves to God; instead, most of us hold establishment values and, driven by consumerism and "feel-good-ism," place "getting ahead" before love of God, self and neighbor.

The truth is, we have "spiritualized" the Beatitudes, often failing to see how radically subversive they are. Take the very first Beatitude which "pops the bubble of material expectation and endorses a world order in which it is the 'have-nots' who are blessed while the 'haves' are spiritually endangered" Stewart, Jesus the Holy Fool, 97). "What is blessed or happy about being poor?" we might ask ourselves. Of course, we miss the point: it is only by letting go of all our goals, dreams, attachments, addictions, possessions and inflated notions of self that we can open our hands for the only wealth that is meaningful. It is in letting go of all our efforts to control our lives that we become available to God -- and God, in turn, becomes available to us.

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