Bill Mounce says that the emphatic third person pronoun in the Beatitudes, αυτος (pronounced ow-tahss) means they alone.
The nuance of αυτος is that they alone will receive the blessing… Jesus is not saying that those who mourn, among others, are comforted. He is saying that they and they alone will be comforted. The merciful, and they alone, will receive mercy… The meaning of the αυτος is nuanced, but it is there, and its force is devastating to much of modern theology and its easy believism.Emphatic Pronouns and Salvation (Matt 5:3)
I don’t know how Bill Mounce would define that term, but I think it might involve reading the New Testament as a collection of soothing stories about a God who is endlessly supportive, who exists mostly to dispense comfort and approval. There’s certainly plenty of that in the air. I call it There, There religion, and sermons of that ilk There, There sermons.
Is Mounce’s reading of that pronoun a corrective? What happens if you read the Beatitudes his way?
5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs alone is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they alone will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they alone will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they alone will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they alone will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they alone will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they alone will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs alone is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward, yours alone, is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
As I read those words, I immediately lose the sense that God’s love is unconditional. God has put performance standards on my life after all. I have to qualify for God’s loving response.
Well then, I think, I’d darned well better be poor in spirit, whatever that is, otherwise God is not going to let me in after all. Assuming I can figure out what that means and how to pull it off, what else do I have to do?
Mourning. OK, that one I have covered. Next? Gee, there’s a lot.
I know, how about a handy table.
|Poorness in spirit||Kingdom of heaven|
|Desire for righteousness||Being filled|
|Purity of heart||Seeing God|
|Peacemaking||A title of honor|
|Being persecuted for righteousness||Kingdom of heaven|
|Being persecuted for God’s sake||Reward in heaven|
It seems horrible, doesn’t it, what I’m doing with that table, as if I can’t be serious. Aren’t I being hopelessly crass and literal? But if I’ve been missing the boat, I’m in big trouble and it’s late in the game given my grey hair. I can’t afford to be coy. If I’ve been too easy-believin’ all along, and these are the rules of the game, I’d better get cracking.
As I said, I’m good for Mourning. Can I get, say, 10 points for Mourning, assuming that we’re working with a 10-point scale? Top marks!
But, you know, mourning is kind of forced on you, unlike being persecuted for God’s sake, which is something people choose, or at least accept, when they usually could weasel their way out of it and continue living a peaceful life. Consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer returning to Germany when he could have stayed in New York. Suffering for God’s sake is usually voluntary, and that’s noble. Maybe Mourning should get a lesser weight, how about 8 points, while suffering for God, a 12, right over the top!
Next up: Desire for righteousness. Does it do me any good that I used to be furious at the injustices of the world? If I’d been hit by a bus at the age of 25, or 35, or even 45, I would have gotten at least a 10. But I’ve lived too long and now I’m tired and discouraged, a 7 at best. But wait — about that youthful 10: Does it matter that I was never sacrificially involved, not like the heart-stoppingly brave people who used to do things like protest outside the School of the Americas? Let’s knock that score down to an 8. Maybe even a 6.
This meta-criticism pertains to every virtue, though, because every virtue has an element of fearful desire to be good enough to earn God’s favor and reward. (At least, it does if you interpret αυτος in this fashion.) It is impossible for us to wish to be virtuous solely for virtue’s sake. Knowing this, how do I rank even my most positive qualities? In other words, what’s my chickenshit factor? Should I give myself a rough score for each category and then deduct a flat 25% for each? Yes — at the very least! My chickenshit factor is generously sized, I know from experience.
September 27, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths