Blessed are the Cheesemakers
When we picture Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount we probably imagine a crowd of attentive followers, quietly taking in and understanding all that Jesus taught. The Monty Python film The Life of Brian, however conveys a sense of the confusion, distraction and misunderstanding that there might really have been among the crowd. ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers’, one hears, ‘Blessed are the Greek’, relays another, ‘he’s going to inherit the earth’, until a woman corrects them, ‘no ‘it’s the meek, that’s nice, innit, I’m glad they're getting something because they have a hell of a time.’
The Mount of the Beatitudes, the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount, stands beside the Sea of Galilee. The side of the hill has a curved side, forming a natural theatre, and some think it was there that Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount, making use of the natural good acoustics of the site, rather than preaching into the wind.
The teaching of Jesus was eloquently repeated by the evangelists based on eye-witness reports. But the confusion in the Life of Brian is not unbelievable, and even now, these Beatitudes, these references to the state of the blessed, take some working out and working through.
To begin with there is the question of what word should be used in English. The Jerusalem Bible opts for ‘happy.’. ‘Happy’ is a word which has lost its original meaning; we wish people a ‘happy birthday’ or ‘happy new year ’ , to be 'h-a-p-p-y’ now suggests enjoying oneself and being jolly. But originally the word meant, ‘being favoured by fortune’. So some translators have translated the term as ‘fortunate.’ The Greek word, ‘makarioi’ was used in classical times to describe the state of the gods in contrast to that of human beings. The Hebrew term had a similar meaning, so there is the suggestion that, by behaving as Jesus recommends, we shall be more like God. Personally I prefer the term ‘blessed’, because to be blessed, also means to be made holy, touched by God, to be in a state of grace.
Some of the Beatitudes work by contrasts, in line with the often unexpected nature of Jesus’ teaching, turning worldly wisdom on its head. As St Paul said, ‘God chose what is foolish by human reckoning to show up the worldly wise.’
How blessed are those who know their need of God; the kingdom of God will be composed of the poor in spirit.It might appear that they have little, but they know they are empty and can be filled with God.
How blessed are the gentle, the meek, they shall inherit the earth. It is not those who are powerful by worldly standards who possess the real and lasting power, but those who work gently, those who act like the still small voice of calm in which the prophet Elijah experienced the presence of God. As St Paul said, ‘God chose what is weak by human reckoning to shame the strong.’
Those who mourn are those who lament the sinful nature of mankind that fails to live up to God’s expectations, and that shuns his rule of love. It pains them to witness the suffering caused to others, and make reach out with compassion.
Those who struggle for justice, who fight for what is right and don’t just give in to a comfortable and easy life, they will be satisfied. You have to be hungry and thirsty first in order to be satiated. You’ve got to want something in order to be fulfilled.
If you are merciful, if you are generous with your forgiveness and kindness even when it is undeserved, that you will be treated in a similarly favorable way.
If you try to be pure in heart and not let sinful thoughts and deeds be an obstacle that blocks your love, then you will perceive God, you’ll see him as he really is, by trying to imitate him.
If you try to create peace and harmony working for the greater good, you will be considered children of God, his own offspring and brothers and sisters of Christ.
And if you suffer for trying to do good and for loving the Lord, you will suffer as Christ suffered, and for the Christian, that should be regarded as a privilege; difficult though that is to understand by the world’s standards.
Fr Benedict Green one of the Mirfield Fathers and former principal of the College of the Resurrection wrote a book on the Beatitudes. Fr Christopher Irvine, a later principal said to Fr Benedict how much he was looking forward to reading his book, only to be told, ‘It's for scholars, you wouldn't understand.'
The Beatitudes are not straightforward, they are not easy to understand, they are an enigma. They are still harder to take to heart and apply. But the reward is infinitely and unexpectedly worth the effort. They are a guide to life from a different angle. They are how God wishes us to be.