• thebetterpart

Feast of All Saints (Ages 9-12): Already, but Not Yet

Updated: Oct 29

(You may have notice that I keep converting "kingdom of heaven" to "kingdom of God." The phrase that is used in the Bible can be translated as the "reign of God." "Reign" does not refer to a place, but to the time when a king rules. We can think then of the "Kingdom of God" as the WHEN of God, not the WHERE of God.)


Matthew 5.1-12a


This Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints--the feast of all those who worked to build the Kingdom of God and who have now been born into the Risen Life of Jesus. Last Sunday, the Gospel ended with, "on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” We thought about the vision that the prophets had of the Kingdom of God in its fullness. As we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, we listen to Jesus as he gives us "the Beatitudes." Jesus discusses both the vision of the fullness of the Kingdom, and the people who build it.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven."

What do you notice?


Nine times, Jesus says certain people are "blessed." Sometimes this is translated as "happy" or "fortunate." It is good to be these people, Jesus says, for God's blessings are upon them.


Nine times, Jesus says that people "are" blessed. He does not say, they "will be" blessed. It is not something that is going to happen. It is something that is already so.


Really, Jesus? People who mourn, who grieve over someone who has died, who have sorrow filling their hearts--these people are fortunate, lucky, blessed NOW? What can he mean? What does Jesus know?


Jesus knows the vision of the prophets:



Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

"And he will destroy on this mountain...

he will swallow up death forever.

Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces...

It will be said on that day,

Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.

This is the Lord for whom we have waited;

let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation." (Isaiah 25:7-9)


Death will be destroyed forever. "They will be comforted," Jesus says. Yes, they mourn now, because death is a problem that is not yet overcome. But their mourning gives God room to act. Their grieving welcomes God into the world to comfort, to wipe away tears. In the midst of their grief, then, do those who mourn feel how near the Kingdom of God has come?


Why does Jesus say, "Blessed are the meek"? The Greek word Jesus uses for "meek" is "praus." Within this word's meaning is the idea of a lion--so strong and fierce--holding itself back from pouncing. Something with power, choosing not to destroy. This calls to mind another vision of the Kingdom that Isaiah had:



"The wolf shall live with the lamb,

the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. (Isaiah 11:6-7)



Those who choose to control their power, to refrain from destruction--do they hasten the time of the kingdom? Are they blessed because their control allows God to heal the earth from past injury? They will inherit the earth, and it will be whole.


I am interested in the relationship between the two halves of each Beatitude. Six of them say, already you are blessed, but the fullness has not yet come. What is the relationship between already but not yet?

Photo by Anna Samoylova on Unslapsh

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness..." Do they, in their longing for God--the source of all that is right and just, good and true--pull all of us along with them, bringing us all closer to the time when "they will be filled"? Should we be grateful for those who hunger for what is right, because they show us all how much better life can be? Does their hunger and thirst actually build the kingdom?


“Blessed are the merciful..." Do the merciful open a way for God, by letting go of anger and offering forgiveness? By showing mercy, by acting the way God acts, do the merciful advance the Kingdom of God?


“Blessed are the pure in heart..." Do those who keep their eyes on God, help us all to share in the vision of what can be?


“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." Of course they will be called children of God. We call them that now, because they have decided not to wait to build the kingdom, but they are working for it now. And if their work inspires us, and we work to create peace, too, how much sooner will the Kingdom of God be complete?


These are all the people who build the Kingdom. If these people have died, we call them saints. If these people are us...well, we are God's disciples, aren't we?



Did you notice anything else? Framing all of the "already but not yet" Beatitudes, are three differently-worded Beatitudes.


“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God."

Not "will be."

Is.

As in, right now. If we are poor in spirit, if we decide to empty ourselves of whatever little thing we want, and instead ask to do what God wants, the Kingdom of God is ours.

Now.

Not when we die.

Right now.


God's kingdom comes

because

God's will is done.


When we do the will of God, we get a glimpse of the Kingdom complete. Blessed indeed.



That is enough, isn't it? But there is more, and it is difficult. Are you ready for this part?

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God."

Those who are persecuted for their devotion to God, for their work for all that is right and just and good--they have the Kingdom in the midst of their persecution. That is a hard teaching. How can this be so? It is something we have to ponder.


And as we ponder, Jesus shifts gears again, changing the framework for the very last Beatitude. Listen:

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven."

Before, he was talking about people in general. Now who is he talking to? Jesus speaks directly to you and directly to me. When it is hard being a Christian, a disciple of God--not if, but when--remember, Jesus knows. He goes before us. He knows, and we know, that through suffering, good can come. Great good.

We rejoice and are glad.

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