Matthew 5: 1-12 “The Beatitudes”
I am sure that many of our parents remember the first words we spoke. For our parents these words were memorable – especially if they were about them! The first words we utter are a mighty achievement. But then the first words a person speaks in a new role, too, always have a great significance about them. We think of the first speech of a member of Parliament or a president. Without putting too much pressure on him, we are looking forward to the first homily of Bishop Anthony, though some of us may have already watched his first greeting to us after the announcement of his appointment. These all tell us something of the nature of the person, their priorities, their direction. This is why such first speeches are historical in character.
The writers of the Gospels also have Jesus giving a first speech as it were: it is the words that we have just heard. He goes up a mountain and he makes a declaration. But the declaration is very confusing. It is all about who enjoys God’s favour. The people of the time – as perhaps we too – think that wealth is considered to be a sign of God’s favour, a sign of God’s blessing. Surely, the more we have, the happier we are; the more powerful and the stronger we are the more promising life will for us. And if we are poor and struggling, and don’t have very much power, then surely we have missed out on the blessing of God; we are hopeless.
And yet, here is Jesus – in the speech that it is to define his mission – saying those who are blessed are those who are poor, those who lack something. How could this be? What good can being poor be?
So, let me tell you a story:
Once upon a time there was a great forest. It ranged over hills for miles all the way to the western seas. One day one of the great standing trees, an oak, was having a conversation with an elegant, tall pine. As they often did, they talked about the other trees, life in the forest, the weather and all the news that the birds brought with them from the outside. Mostly they spoke of the other trees.
The oak mentioned the lovely delicate azalea with its pink, soft white and lavender blooms . . . Then the pine said, “And look at that rowan tree . . . Such a creation.” They went through the trees one by one, and then the oak nearly spit out, “And look at that ash tree. I just don’t know why God created that tree. And there are so many of them!”
Days later a woodsman came through the forest looking for a tree. He needed to make something. His house and workshop were falling to ruin. He spoke finally to the great trees, the oak and the pine, for in those days humans and trees and animals could still talk to one another. He asked their suggestions on what tree to choose. They conferred and quickly said, “Take an ash tree. There are so many of them.”
And he did. He chopped the nearest ash tree down and went home. There he made an axe handle for his new blade and then returned to the forest and started swinging. One by one the trees were felled. Down they all went . . . Finally, he drew near to the oak and the pine, and they realised rather late what was going to happen to them. The oak ruefully spoke his thoughts aloud to the pine and said, “Pine, we made a mistake. We forgot something basic in our quick giving away of the life of the ash tree. We are all trees at root, and the death of one means the death of us all.”
And with those words echoing in the air, the woodsman started on the great oak with his new axe with its ash handle.
The most important thing we will learn in our life is that we need one another. This is what the oak and the pine tree learnt all too late. But this is the message that Jesus wants to share with us right at the outset of his mission.
Most people think:
Happy are the independent: for they never let life hurt them.
Happy are the pushers: for they get on in the world.
Happy are they who complain: for they get their own way in the end.
Happy are the blasé: for they never worry over their mistakes.
Happy are the slave-drivers: for they get results.
Happy are those who know everything: for they know their way around.
Happy are the trouble-makers: for people have to take notice of them.
There is a part in each of us that wants to accumulate, to have power over others, to become strong without others. We want to be mighty oaks and pines in the forest. But Jesus teaches us something quite different:
Happy are those who know their limitations: they will find the joy of friendship.
Happy are those who can share the pain of other people: they will know the beauty that belongs to caring for others.
Happy are those who can risk forgiving when they are hurt: they will know what freedom truly is.
Happy are those who are not content with how the world is: they will be creators of a new society.
Happy are those that will not compromise their integrity: they will glimpse what goodness is all about.
Happy are those who always look for those ways to bring others together: they will know the power of solidarity.
Happy are those who have the courage to follow this way of being in the world: it will be hard, but this is the only way by which the world can be transformed.
Jesus teaches us that happiness truly comes to us when we recognize just how vulnerable we are, when we reach out to one another in care of each other, when we discover a new sense of companionship with each other. For Jesus, the future of the world does not lay in a system of winners and losers, but when we have discovered a new way of being with others, and for others.
Anything that can lure us away from the profound recognition of the truth that, in the end, we are utterly dependent on God and one another, anything that distances us from people and makes us more independent from one another – this is what Jesus says he will work against in his life and ministry, and this is what he invites to work against too.
Jesus invites us to live constantly with the awareness that we are dependent on one another and never to forget this. When we forget this, we end up with nothing like the oak and the pine in the story. But when we give up the lie of self-sufficiency we discover a richness of life beyond imagination, the life into which he has come to lead us, a truly blessed life indeed.
 Taken from Megan McKenna. Parables: The arrows of God, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994), 75-76.
 Adapted from a set of the Beatitudes, source unknown.
 See Megan McKenna. Parables: The arrows of God, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994), 74.
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