In this morning’s gospel reading, we hear Luke’s version of what we know as The Beatitudes. Beatitude, from the Latin beatus, is defined as: a state of utmost bliss, and is synonymous with felicity, gladness, happiness, joy, and especially blessedness. It is the word blessed which we hear at the beginning of each statement Jesus gives. In Matthew’s gospel, we hear a longer version of the Beatitudes which comes from a sermon Jesus gives to his followers, known as the Sermon on the Mount. It is this version I remember hearing each year when Franco Zefferelli’s epic “Jesus of Nazareth” was broadcast on TV just prior to Easter. You may remember Zefferelli’s strikingly incongruous Anglo Jesus with crystal blue eyes delivering the Beatitudes to a great crowd assembled around him, augmented by the uplifting sound of a string orchestra, giving the moment a dramatic sense of beauty and hope.
Luke’s version, known as the Sermon on the Plain, is spare with only four Beatitudes. Besides the location and brevity of Luke’s version, the other difference is that each statement of blessedness is balanced by a woe, emphasizing two rival ways of human conduct and the reversal of human values that we hear throughout Luke. The gospel writer sets the scene by telling us that people had come not only from Judea and Jerusalem, but from the coast of Tyre and Sidon. Traditionally, we understand the gospel writer of Luke to himself be a Gentile, outside the covenant between God and Israel. Where Matthew’s gospel is written for a community of Jewish believers who are asking questions about how their belief in Jesus intersects with the faith of their upbringing, Luke is proclaiming the promise of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, outside of Judaism. What do we notice about these Beatitudes and their subsequent ‘woes’ in Luke? Let me suggest two things:
In the Kingdom of God, authority is wielded paradoxically: by way of selfless surrender and service to others, as Jesus exemplified when he washed the feet of his disciples. Authority not based on this model very often leads to suffering and, at worst, leads to great injustices. As Christians, we are called to weigh carefully the models of authority to which we look for guidance, as well to assess those that dwell in our own hearts. In this article, I want to explore a perhaps unexpected source of wisdom on authority: the archetypes of Carl Jung. Jungian archetypes can teach us about the nature of true authority in Christ.
In the early twentieth century, Carl Jung contributed the idea of archetypes to modern psychology. According to Jung, archetypes are images and themes that run deeply through our culture and psyches, which help to subconsciously shape our sense of identity, our desires, and our beliefs. Jung and his later students explored many possible archetypes; the primary ones for our purposes here are the Ruler and the Tyrant.
Today at both Morning Prayer and the Eucharist we are confronted with a scandal. In both places the original audiences would have been shocked by what Jesus was saying. They may have been listening as Jesus spoke, thinking yes, yes, I quite see that. Suddenly, they would have been startled by what they heard. Perhaps they turned to their neighbour with a quizzical look. Maybe they asked someone near them to repeat what they thought they had just heard. Perhaps they tried to clean out their ears, thinking they had misheard the Teacher. But if we read the gospels carefully, what we heard this morning is not new. Jesus repeats it over, and over. Indeed, Jesus lives it. We could even say that Jesus dies it.
Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.
‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured…’
Perhaps we can better understand this unnamed woman’s outburst if we recall that in Jesus’ time there would have been far fewer opportunities for a woman to distinguish herself from among her peers than there are today. To have given birth to and raised a “successful” son might have given a woman a sense of pride and accomplishment. Her peers, as evidenced in this story, might have admired her and thought her “blessed.”
It is not uncommon for us, too, to want to distinguish ourselves among our peers. For many of us, our accomplishments not only give us pleasure and satisfaction, they also offer a sense that our lives have been meaningful and worthwhile. Our identity is often wrapped up in these achievements. We learn to value ourselves, and others, based on what we have done. We may gain respect in the eyes of others by our academic or professional accomplishments, or by the fact that we have been able to build wealth or raise our social status. Even if we restrain from bragging openly about our accomplishments, we may savor a hidden sense of pride that we have made a mark on the world and distinguished ourselves in the eyes of others.