11 October 2007

Gospel of St. Matthew Bible Study - Lesson 5

Notes from class covering the fifth chapter of St. Matthew's gospel.
Topics are the Sermon on the Mount - Beatitudes.

Father Echert saved the punch line to the end of class and that is that the overall message of the Beatitudes is that we will be satisfied, but not here. Things will be made perfect, but not yet. Up to this point, the Israelites were expecting the Savior to come and create a glorious kingdom on earth where he would reign like a typical king and things would be perfected and they would be satisfied. When Jesus came and said, "Whoa, not so fast. Not here, not now," they were angered and this is part of the reason they sought to crucify Him.

The fifth chapter starts out with the Sermon on the Mount, which is believed to be an area just to the north of the Sea of Galilee. It was not a mountain, like Mount Sinai, but more of a hill (or even a natural amphitheater as Jeff Cavins mentioned during last year's study). Parallels are drawn between Jesus and Moses. Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the law and Jesus preaches His new law from the top of this mountain. Previously, only Moses, as the mediator, could touch the Holy Mountain or God would strike any living thing dead. Jesus is the new mediator. The previously hidden sacrifice of the temple is now far more visible and accessible. The veil will be torn in two, so there will be more access, but still the altar is holy and the priest alone is allowed on the altar and in the tabernacle (makes you pause and think about the EMHCs. If only Moses was allowed to touch the Holy Mountain and others would be struck dead, what is in store for those EMHCs that unworthily, pridefully and haphazardly distribute Communion? I wonder if they understand the GRAVITY of what they are doing and the HONOR of being in the presence of the PERFECT SACRIFICE. I am sure much is expected of them and I hope they are cognizant of it.) Although God is now more approachable and accessible, He is still to be given His rightful place.

Jesus' new law supersedes and perfects the Mosaic Law. He BUILDS, not replaces, the moral commandments of the Mosaic Law. The Old Covenant, as St. Paul says, is obsolete. The ritual law pass away, but NOT the moral laws. The prior ritual laws were there because the people needed them (like children need structure) because they had been unfaithful over and over. God set them apart for their own spiritual well-being and gave them these ritual laws to help them remain faithful. Now Jesus is coming and doing away with these rituals (more childish ways) and calling His disciples to perfection.

From our class notes, it says that Catholics see the Sermon on the Mount as a call to perfection. Others see it as an impossible ideal or an interim ethic view. The theory of the impossible ideal is a 16th century reaction to the perfectionist view and it was pronounced by, who else, Martin Luther. The Sermon on the Mount is designed to teach that the law condemns the entire human race. No human being can claim never to have gotten angry, never to have had lustful thoughts, never to have coveted, etc. Luther believed that Jesus' teachings are designed to show Christians their own inability to save themselves, and to cause Christians who realize this to throw themselves on God's mercy. Albert Schweitzer developed the interim ethic view. The Sermon on the Mount is the product of failed apocalyptic enthusiasm that imagined the kingdom of heaven to be no more than a few years away -- describing how Christians are to live while waiting for the dawn of the celestial kingdom. Schweitzer believed that the kingdom never came and that Jesus, in a strange and desperate attempt to force God's hand, got himself crucified and died without rising again. Have at 'er, there Albert.

Jesus being on the mount also parallels David and Mount Zion. Father didn't talk about this at all, but from our class notes it mentions that the OT prophets "understand the Davidic covenant to be an expansion and development of the Mosaic covenant. The covenant mediated through Moses establishes a nation, while the covenant with David establishes a kingdom to rule not only the people of Israel but all the Gentiles as well." Jesus has now come to establish His Church, which includes the Israelites and the Gentiles. Some symbolism that Father didn't mention is that the mountain is indicative of the high standards of the New Covenant. Moses brought the law down from the mountain to the people; they weren't able to ascend or meet God at His level, showing that the Old Covenant was a lower form of law and is now superseded by the New Covenant, perfected and exemplified by Jesus.

Father mentioned the Beatitudes mean blessing or even happiness, although he cautioned about interpreting it as happiness because it could lead to poor understanding. Happiness can be spiritual or temporal. The will or soul is content in having acquired some good or "rest" (these ideas are from St. Thomas' Summa Theologica). A good may NOT be an objective good (Father's example was bank robbing, the robbers are "happy" they got the loot, but it isn't a good). Sin seeks a "perceived" good or a good disproportionately. The saints were able to perceive "goods" and put them in the correct order (spiritual goods above temporal). They were willing to give up a temporal (temporary) good for a higher spiritual (eternal) good. We are given the grace and conscience to discern a false good from a true good. This is why it is important to form your conscience correctly. The Beatitudes speak about spiritual blessings - higher ordered goods (supernatural) and speak of postponing temporal blessings until we enter Heaven.

St. Luke's gospel has a similar account, often called the "Sermon on the Plain." Scholars argue whether the events are the same or not. Father mentioned that Jesus preached for three years and undoubtedly said the same thing over and over, so the accounts could be of different events. He likened it to giving a homily at three different Masses on the same day. The message would be the same, but the actual words used may differ slightly. For example, Luke's gospel account mentions, "Blessed are the poor," but Matthew's says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."

As Jesus started preaching, he sat down, which is the typical posture for a Rabbi to use when teaching and speaking from authority.

An aside that Father didn't mention is that the Beatitudes follow a specific pattern, with each blessing building on the prior and the beatitude of spiritual poverty being the foundation of all the others. The first seven beatitudes correspond to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Poor in spirit means we are called to humility and aware of our need for God's grace and mercy. Wealthy or impoverished people can both be spiritually poor; spiritually dispossessed of material and worldly goods.

Those who mourn doesn't just mean mourning for the dead. It means to mourn our sins against God, humanity and original sin that brought this separation from God upon us. We are aware of the just punishment of God and accept it. Father said it could be read as those who "mourn over sin."

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Father said that this is a "condition of Heaven." We must pray for our enemies and their salvation, must forgive, not judge. He cited some passage from Shakespeare (maybe Karen will know this) in Hamlet where the murderer held off killing the King because he heard the King say a prayer of remorse and figured the King was, at that moment, in a state of grace. The murderer wanted to wait until the King was no longer in the state of grace to kill him to ensure his damnation. Pure evil!

"Blessed are the peacemakers" doesn't have much to do with being a pacifist. Father mentioned that when Jesus appeared to His apostles, He didn't get all fire and brimstone about getting back at the folks that crucified Him. The first thing He said was "Peace be with you." He was giving them God's peace and showing that through what He did, mankind can be reconciled with God and we are to spread the message of this peace (reconciliation with God) to others.

"You are the light of the world." Indicates what must happen in the Church, we must be a beacon in the world, evangelizing by our example, doing good works. The Israelites often failed and adopted the ways of the pagans around them instead of converting them, so God had to isolate them. In the Old Covenant, there were physical walls of the cities to keep the pagans/Gentiles out. In the New Covenant, there are spiritual walls that we are to use to keep out the way of the world, but we are to be examples, lights, to draw people in by what they see.

"For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." The scribes and Pharisees were the ones who most perfectly kept the covenant. They went overboard and applied the strict laws that were meant for the priests to all. Jesus is saying that they paid great attention to the temporal and we should have as much zeal for the spiritual.

Although Father didn't mention it, verses 21-48 are called the "Six Antithesis" where Jesus says, "You have heard it said...but I say to you..." Here He is showing He is the new Moses and the lawgiver of the New Covenant. Within these verses, Father said, it shows we will be judged for INTENTION too, not just actions as in the Old Covenant. More is given in the New Covenant and more is expected. There is a new standard and God will provide the grace to resist.

Verse 22 uses the word "fool" but Father said the correct translation is moron. You are not to call someone a moron (which comes from the Greek "moronos" or something phonetically like that!) but even St. Paul calls unfaithful people "fools" in Corinthians.

In verse 38, it says "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." This is OT justice and was perfectly acceptable to God. It did limit what you could do, since you were only allowed one tooth, not two, for that would be vengeance. The punishment had to fit the crime. The New Covenant tells you to turn the other cheek. We are now called to charity, which transcends justice. God will take care of the justice, we are to concern ourselves with charity.

Next week we don't have class, but come back the following Thursday for Chapter Six.

5 comments:

gemoftheocean said...

:-D You betcha I know that passage in Hamlet. About 9 years ago for I took an acting class where we were studying Hamlet. [I highly recommend a re-read or better yet going to a performance of Hamlet when it's something you WANT to do, and not something you "have" to do.]

Anyway, even before I knew there were some scholarly works speculating on whether or not Will Shakespeare was a Catholic or not, I was struck by that particular soliloquies. [We were all to learn one of the 5 major soliloquies by heart.] The FIRST thing I thought was: "Geez, I know Will's mom was a Catholic but was he? ONLY a Catholic would come up with a soliloquy. I blogged a bit about it back in August.

The scene is Act III, Scene III at the very end. This is after the dumb show, and King Claudius now knows that Hamlet knows that Claudius is guilty.

Claudius says:

O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon't,
A brother's murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will:
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother's blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offence?
And what's in prayer but this two-fold force,
To be forestalled ere we come to fall,
Or pardon'd being down? Then I'll look up;
My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? 'Forgive me my foul murder'?
That cannot be; since I am still possess'd
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
May one be pardon'd and retain the offence?
In the corrupted currents of this world
Offence's gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft 'tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law: but 'tis not so above;
There is no shuffling, there the action lies
In his true nature; and we ourselves compell'd,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence. What then? what rests?
Try what repentance can: what can it not?
Yet what can it when one can not repent?
O wretched state! O bosom black as death!
O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,
Art more engaged! Help, angels! Make assay!
Bow, stubborn knees; and, heart with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe!
All may be well.

Retires and kneels

Enter HAMLET

HAMLET

Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I'll do't. And so he goes to heaven;
And so am I revenged. That would be scann'd:
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.
O, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
He took my father grossly, full of bread;
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May;
And how his audit stands who knows save heaven?
But in our circumstance and course of thought,
'Tis heavy with him: and am I then revenged,
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and season'd for his passage?
No!
Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent:
When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed;
At gaming, swearing, or about some act
That has no relish of salvation in't;
Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,
And that his soul may be as damn'd and black
As hell, whereto it goes. My mother stays:
This physic but prolongs thy sickly days.

Exit

KING CLAUDIUS

[Rising] My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.

Exit

***

Brilliant. Claudius wonders if he should seek forgiveness of God -- Hamlet wants to kill him then and there, but hesitates that Claudius *might* be in a state of grace, and he doesn't want that. But then irony or ironies, At the end we find Claudius has rejected seeking forgiveness as his "thoughts remain below: words without thoughts never to heaven go."

swissmiss said...

Karen:
Thanks so much for this. Here's what I know about Hamlet.
Hamlet
something stinks in Denmark
King
avenged murder
castle
ghost

I have read some Shakespeare, but not Hamlet. How I ever made it through school so completely uneducated is disgusting! And I took the tough classes, too! I'm just not a literary buff.

I hope to provide my kids a better education and learn something along the way myself.

Divine Mercy said...

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gemoftheocean said...

Swiss, that's part of the problem of the schools. *Ideally* the Bard should really be SEEN. We did both.
The ones I did in school were Romeo and Juliet (standard grade 9 fare - yutzie teens in love and a lot of violence and sneaking out at night - you get to compare it to West Side Story for fun) -- 10th grade: Julius Caesar (presumably you were doing western civ. that year in history too) + another of your choice; in 11st we did MacBeth + choice; in 12th we saw 12th Night at the Globe, and did Hamlet + choice. Seems they threw some of the Bard in every year in your English class no matter what you were doing. As far as the Olivier version of the movie. Ugh. I feel the way what's his name felt about Barbra Streisand in IN and OUT "She was too OLD to play Yentel" [fighting words for Kevin Kline!) Larry O. always looks to me like someone's grandfather in that thing. I love Richard Burton's Hamlet, OTOH

The Bard is better handled if seen first, because the story line will be much easier to follow as good Shakespearian actors will make things very clear (assuming the director doesn't have his/her head up the backside.) Later a student can go back to look at the details bit by bit.

For best results with kids have them ACT it out! Seriously.

for some REAL fun rent "Unabridged Shakespeare" - a three man cast goes through ALL the plays of Shakespeare - hysterical.

Start with the more fun plays first. 12th Night, Merry Wives of Windsor etc. Every year in San Diego there's a Shakespeare in the park event, and some of the schools and High Schools have teams of students from their respective schools put on some scenes. I had caught a performance of a bit of Taming of the Shrew done by some rather young La Jolla Country Day students, they were aged 10-12 tops. Most impressive and with a lot of flair. Too bad most places, especially for younger students water down the curriculum so much the kids are spoon fed little more than "Dick, Jane and Spot." SURE Shakespeare is "harder" to get -- but a little Shakespeare well done and understood is worth more than the reams of crap shoved at the students all too often.

swissmiss said...

Karen:
Shakespeare is part of a larger problem and that is the most I learned about English and European history was about Pilgrims and explorers. Also something about a few world wars being fought over there. That's it. For me, at least, it's hard to really appreciate all of these things without knowing the history and context. That's part of why I like genealogy because I get to learn about my family and the history of the place they were from.

I did learn some Shakespeare in school, reading only. Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, and Othello.