Rejoice and Be Glad
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. Matthew 5:12a
As this series on What Did Jesus Say continues, I will begin reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount, as found in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. This is one of the longer of Jesus’ discourses recorded in the Gospels. The initial part of this sermon is referred to as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), or the Be-attitudes, which provide a distinctively Jesus-way of processing our life experiences.
Rather than starting with the first beatitude, I will begin with what I consider the summarizing point of the series: “Rejoice and be glad.” Although one can say I am pulling this quote out of its context (rejoicing when others persecute us), I believe it is a reasonable conclusion to all of the statements preceding it. It puts the teachings into a greater context, giving them a worthy purpose. They tell us that life is good, regardless of occasional and apparent evidence to the contrary. Outside of this context, the statements can seem nonsensical.
Each of the nine Beatitudes follows an if-then type of format, i.e., if this, then that. More specifically, Jesus says, “Blessed are (the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, etc.), for (theirs is the kingdom of heaven, they will be comforted, they will inherit the earth, etc.). So, a situation is named, and its accompanying blessing follows in a concluding statement. The ultimate conclusion, as revealed in Matthew 5:12, is to “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” A condensed version of the same teaching is found in Luke 6:23, where Jesus says, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven.” Most of the situations named are not at all what we would consider worthy of leaping for joy, nor does our world encourage or reward them. This lack of short-term gain is how we intuit that Jesus is referring to a different depth of reward than any immediate response we may or may not receive. More accurately, Jesus is referring to a gain that we cannot realize when we remain on the surface of our lives. There are hidden blessings for going deep into the experience of any given moment. As long as we skim obliviously along from moment to moment, we cannot experience the depth and the beauty that lies beneath. It is under the surface of our moments that the blessings of the Beatitudes are found.
When Jesus says, “…your reward is great in heaven,” I do not believe he is referring to a post-death existence. Most of us have developed a limited understanding of heaven as an eternal paradise available to those who have been good enough in this life to warrant such eternal bliss when this life comes to an end. While I do not deny that such may be our experience after death, I do not believe that is the heaven to which Jesus refers. Rather, he is talking about a state of being, or a level of consciousness available to us in the here and now. This is the state Jesus calls heaven, where we can be one with Jesus, and through Jesus be one with the Father.
With this as context, we can begin to understand the Beatitudes as lessons from Jesus about attitudes for being, for diving beneath the surface of our life experience, and for harmonizing our lives into unity with God. Being poor in spirit, merciful, and pure in heart become key to our ability to find the heart-space where we can meet Jesus in the here and now, regardless of where or how we are. Sometimes, the behaviors and events least praised and admired by those around us are the very ways most conducive to experiencing heaven on earth. Whether we suffer, mourn, or are without the “advantages” others seem to have over us, we can rejoice and be glad, knowing that our disadvantaged-ness holds the key to the kingdom of heaven. Life is good, even now. This, then, is the direction in which the Beatitudes we will discuss in the coming weeks are pointing.
This is the 10th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”
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