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Posted May 25, 2005

Book: Spirituality of the Beatitudes: Matthew’s Vision for the Church in an Unjust World
Author: Michael H. Crosby
Orbis, Maryknoll, NY, pp.221

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

It is clear that exegetes have spilled much ink trying to understand the actual meaning of the Beatitudes in the context of the social world that gave rise to their inclusion in Matthew’s Gospel. Others who stress a more systematic approach to theology interpret them from various understandings of ecclesiology and/or christology. We have seen also that, for people who have been trained to develop their religious lives from the perspective of observing regulations, the Beatitudes will be irrelevant to salvation. Given these different scriptural, theological, and religious approaches, why, it might be asked, do I approach the Beatitudes from the lens of spirituality? Basically, since spirituality is the personal witness to a theological stance that makes the theology our biography and the christology our ecclesiology. I believe the Beatitudes are meaningless unless their vision grounds the way we live. As Matthew’s Jesus insisted: we can’t just hear the words; we must enact them in our lives, individually, communally, and institutionally.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Jesus, the Merciful One, Offering a Holiness That is Grounded in Mercy

Not only did Jesus’ deeds exemplify mercy at its finest, but his message as well promoted mercy as the way the gospel should be proclaimed and lived. For this reason, Pope John Paul II said that the teaching of Jesus summarized in this Beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” is a synthesis of the whole of the good news, of the whole of the ‘wonderful exchange.’ contained therein.”

According to Eduard Schweizer, “For Matthew, mercy is the focal point of Jesus’ message, which shows what it means to fulfill the Lay. Mercy has been forgotten by thePharisees.” Jesus’ way of fulfilling the law and the prophets was the way of justice; but mercy fulfills justice.

In his “Rich in Mercy,” Pope John Paul II noted that, “in Christ and through Christ, God also becomes especially visible in his mercy; that is to say, there is emphasized that attribute of the divinity which the Old Testament, using various concepts and terms, already defined as mercy.” Indeed, he stated:

Christ confers on the whole of the Old Testament tradition about God’s mercy a definitive meaning. Not only does he speak of it and explain it by the use of comparisons and parables, but above all he himself makes it incarnate and personifies it. He himself, in a certain sense, is mercy. To the person who sees it in him — and finds it in him — God becomes “visible” in a particular way as the Father “who is rich in mercy.”

With this understanding of Jesus’ person as the revelation of mercy, when we discuss the meaning of the fifth Beatitude, its fulfillment will be best evidenced in the way Jesus was merciful and thus himself received the favor of God’s mercy. . . Suffice it to say that Jesus’ mercy revealed a central characteristic of God’s perfection.

In Leviticus, “the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” In a sincere effort to be faithful to such a demand, the religious leaders of Israel developed a very detailed taxonomy regarding how the people of Israel would be holy. By the time of Jesus, holiness was virtually equated with purity, purity with cleanness and cleanness with separation from that which would be defined as “unclean.” Thus, “holiness” came to be understood with highly organized structures defined by people’s differences rather than by their commonalities and their distinctions, which would result in religious-sanctioned forms of separation.

The phenomenon of Jesus’ euaggelion revolved around the in-breaking of another notion of holiness: mercy. This involved a radical rethinking of the received dynamics of holiness. Indeed, according to Marcus Borg, Jesus’ words and deeds proclaimed “a radical sociopolitical meaning.” He writes: “In his teaching and table fellowship, and in the shape of his movement, the purity system was subverted and an alternative social vision affirmed. The politics of purity was replaced by a politics of compassion.” This new approach to the received (and entrenched) ideology of holiness or perfection was upended in the way Matthew presents Jesus’ approach to key pillars defining the Jewish religion: the Territory, the Touch, the Temple, the Torah, and the Table.

Table of Contents:

Why “Revisit” the Spirituality of the Beatitudes?

Chapter 1

The Relevance of Matthew’s Gospel for First World Christians of the Twenty-First Century

Chapter 2

Whose is the Reign of God?

Chapter 3

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Chapter 4

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn: They Will Be Comforted

Chapter 5

Blessed Are the Nonviolent; They Will Inherit the Earth

Chapter 6

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Justice: They Will Be Satisfied

Chapter 7

Blessed Are the Merciful: They Will Receive Mercy

Chapter 8

Blessed Are the Pure of Heart; They Will See God

Chapter 9

Blessed Are the Peacemakers; They Will Be Called Children of God

Chapter 10

Blessed Are Those Persecuted for Justice’s Sake; The Reign of Heaven Is Theirs