The Beatitudes and bankruptcy – part 2

June 11, 2009

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Jesus’ promise that those who mourn will be comforted corresponds directly to his promise in his inaugural proclamation in Luke 4, quoting Isaiah 61, to “bind up the brokenhearted.”  The “brokenhearted” are those who have been impoverished by foreclosure, as you can see from the poetic parallelism in Isaiah’s oracle:

[He has sent me] to bind up the brokenhearted // to proclaim freedom for the captives, // and release from darkness for the prisoners // to proclaim the year that Yahweh favors–four ways to say basically the same thing.

‘Comfort’ here is a legal term. The Comforter (Paraclete in the gospel of John) was someone who took your side in court, either as your proxy among the elders, someone who can bring your case up in the assembly of elders (since you can’t do it yourself because you’ve lost your land), or as a witness in your defense.

So Jesus’ listeners heard this Beatitude this way:

Blessed are they who have lost their land and home, their means of livelihood, and mourn for their family and their children in poverty; for they shall have their (foreclosure) case appealed and ultimately repealed–for, when God takes up your case, you win.

The message for us?: be comforters. Be advocates for those in poverty.

We’re not done with the Beatitudes. My favorite, and the most misunderstood, I think, is next: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth–a totally inadequate translation, as we shall see. But already some readers may be asking the question that naturally follows on all these promises: How? How is Jesus going to make good on these promises?

When they are just vague spiritual comfort, you can fob them off on the afterlife. But when the comfort promised is actual representation and action in real courts, including the reversal of real judicial decisions, as I am claiming, then how in practical terms did this work? Where is the evidence that Jesus actually fulfilled these promises? How did he plan to return the homeless to their land?

The answer, coming soon in a blog near you.

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