Soul Food Talk # 10 – Salvation History – Biblical Justice, The Beatitudes & the Magnificat

Salvation History, Covenants []

1.    The Bible gives us history from God’s perspective. It shows us that all throughout time, God is working to bring us salvation. That’s why we say that the Bible gives us “salvation history.” This salvation history, in turn, hinges upon the “covenants” that God makes with his people throughout the Bible. What is a covenant? Let’s start with what it’s not. A covenant is not a contract. Contracts are deals where two parties make a promise that involves some exchange of goods or services or property. Usually they seal their contract by giving their “word” – their name – in the form of their signature.

2.    When parties make a covenant, they swear oaths. Oaths are more than promises. Instead of swearing by their own name, they swear by the highest name, by the name of God. Covenants involve, not an exchange of property, but an exchange of persons. You don’t give somebody your services or goods when you swear a covenant oath – you swear to give them yourself. Marriage is a good example. It’s a covenant because in the exchange of vows, the woman gives herself to the man and the man gives himself to the woman.-

3.     When God says to Israel, “You will be my people and I will be your God,” that’s a covenant. What’s happening is that Israel is swearing an oath to God – to live according to God’s law as His people, His children. In turn, God is swearing to be Israel’s God, its divine parent. There are blessings for keeping the covenant and curses for breaking it. In the ancient world, covenants made families. Even ancient treaty documents between nations used “father-son” imagery. Outsiders were “adopted” into a tribe through covenant oaths. So, when we study the Bible we need to see how the meaning of “covenant” is steeped in that ancient idea of family-making. The whole Bible can be outlined as a series of family-making covenants.

4.      That’s the “point” of the whole Bible story – how God, through these covenants, reveals more and more of Himself to his creatures and asks them to enter into a family relationship with Him. St. Paul sums up God’s intentions, this way: “As God said: ‘I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.’….‘I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (see 2 Corinthians 6:16-18).

5.      Throughout the salvation history told in the Bible God acts through His covenants to extend the Family of God. He starts small with just two people, Adam and Eve, and proceeds – through Noah, Abraham, Moses, David – until finally all nations are brought into the covenant through Jesus Christ. [See the readings of Holy Saturday Vigil Mass: the wonderful works of God for his people since the beginning of time. The readings are: 1.the story of creation, Gen 1:1-2; 2; 2. Abraham and Isaac, Gen 22:1-18; 3. Crossing of the Red Sea, Exodus 14:15–15:1; 4. Isaiah: 54: 5-14 ; “For He who has become your husband is your Maker; His Name is the LORD of hosts” 5. Isaiah 55: 1-11 “All you who are thirsty, come to the water. You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat.” 6. Baruch 4:4 “Blessed are we, O Israel; for what pleases God is known to us.” 7. Ezekiel 36: 16-17, 18-28 8. Romans 6:3-11; 9. Gospel reading Mark 16:1-7.

6.     The plan from the beginning was to make all men and women into His sons and daughters through the covenants, which are all summed up in Jesus’ New Covenant, where God sends us “a Spirit of adoption, through which we can cry, Abba, ‘Father!’” (see Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5).

7.      The Beatitudes – [ Here we begin to see the difference between “the law” governing behavior in the old covenant/testament and the Sermon on the Mount containing the beatitudes, the new “law” or guidelines of Jesus in the new covenant/testament. The law of justice is not done away with, but fulfilled in mercy and love.]

8.      The solemn blessings (beatitudines, benedictiones) mark the opening of the Sermon on the Mount, the very first of Our Lord’s sermons in the Gospel of St. Matthew (5:3-10).

9.       Four of the beatitudes occur again in a slightly different form in the Gospel of St. Luke (6:22), likewise at the beginning of a sermon, and running parallel to Matthew 5-7, if not another version of the same. And here they are illustrated by the opposition of the four curses (24-26).

10.       St. Luke– 20 Then he lifted up his eyes towards his disciples, and said; Blessed are you who are poor; the kingdom of God is yours. 21 Blessed are you who are hungry now; you will have your fill. Blessed are you who weep now; you will laugh for joy. 22 Blessed are you, when men hate you and cast you off and revile you, when they reject your name as something evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. 23 When that day comes, rejoice and exult over it; for behold, a rich reward awaits you in heaven; their fathers treated the prophets no better.

11.       Vs. 24 But woe upon you who are rich; you have your comfort already. 25 Woe upon you who are filled full; you shall be hungry. Woe upon you who laugh now; you shall mourn and weep. 26 Woe upon you, when all men speak well of you; their fathers treated the false prophets no worse.

12.      The text of St. Matthew runs as follows:
• 1) Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Verse 3)
• 2) Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. (Verse 4)
• 3) Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Verse 5)
• 4) Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. (Verse 6)
• 5) Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Verse 7)
• 6) Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. (Verse 8)
• 7) Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Verse 9)
• 8) Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Verse 10)

13.      First beatitude [Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.] The word poor seems to represent an Aramaic ‘ányâ (Hebrew ‘anî), bent down, afflicted, miserable, poor; while meek is rather a synonym from the same root, ‘ánwan (Hebrew ‘ánaw), bending oneself down, humble, meek, gentle. Some scholars would attach to the former word also the sense of humility; others think of “beggars before God” humbly acknowledging their need of Divine help. But the opposition of “rich” (Luke 6:24) points especially to the common and obvious meaning, which, however, ought not to be confined to economical need and distress, but may comprehend the whole of the painful condition of the poor: their low estate, their social dependence, their defenseless exposure to injustice from the rich and the mighty. Besides the Lord’s blessing, the promise of the heavenly kingdom is not bestowed on the actual external condition of such poverty. The blessed ones are the poor “in spirit”, who by their free will are ready to bear for God’s sake this painful and humble condition, even though at present they be actually rich and happy; while on the other hand, the really poor man may fall short of this poverty “in spirit”. [See Ps. 10, Ps. 12, etc.] [FEAR OF THE LORD, #45: Fear of the Lord liberates us from seeking the self-exaltation of pride or from craving the fame that can be gained through exterior goods such as honors and wealth.]

14.     Second beatitude [Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.] Inasmuch as poverty is a state of humble subjection, the “poor in spirit”, come near to the “meek”, the subject of the second blessing. The anawim, they who humbly and meekly bend themselves down before God and man, shall “inherit the land” and possess their inheritance in peace. This is a phrase taken from Psalm 36:11, where it refers to the Promised Land of Israel, but here in the words of Christ, it is of course but a symbol of the Kingdom of Heaven, the spiritual realm of the Messiah. Not a few interpreters, however, understand “the earth”. But they overlook the original meaning of Psalm 36:11, and unless, by a far-fetched expedient, they take the earth also to be a symbol of the Messianic kingdom, it will be hard to explain the possession of the earth in a satisfactory way.

15.     Third beatitude [Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.] The “mourning” in the Third Beatitude is in Luke (6:25) opposed to laughter and similar frivolous worldly joy. Motives of mourning are not to be drawn from the miseries of a life of poverty, abjection, and subjection, which are the very blessings of verse 3, but rather from those miseries from which the pious man is suffering in himself and in others, and most of all the tremendous might of evil throughout the world. To such mourners the Lord Jesus carries the comfort of the heavenly kingdom, “the consolation of Israel” (waited for by Simeon in Luke 2:25) foretold by the prophets, and especially by the Book of Consolation of Isaias (11-16). Even the later Jews knew the Messiah by the name of Menahhem, Consoler. These three blessings, poverty, abjection, and subjection are a commendation of what nowadays are called the passive virtues: abstinence and endurance, and the Eighth Beatitude (verse 10) leads us back again to the teaching.

16.     Fourth beatitude [Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.] This beatitude demands more active behaviour. First of all, “hunger and thirst” after justice: a strong and continuous desire of progress in religious and moral perfection, the reward of which will be the very fulfilment of the desire, the continuous growth in holiness. [Justice does not mean here “social justice”, but the righteousness, the holiness of God, justification as in the expression, “Joseph was a just man.”] [NOTE: The gift of FORTITUDE enables us to live in the fourth beatitude, requiring persistence, long-suffering, and patience.]

17.       Fifth beatitude [Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.] From this interior desire for justice, a further step should be taken to acting in the works of “mercy”, corporal and spiritual. Through these the merciful will obtain the Divine mercy of the Messianic kingdom, in this life and in the final judgment. The wonderful fertility of the Church in works and institutions of corporal and spiritual mercy of every kind shows the prophetical sense, not to say the creative power, of this simple word of the Divine Teacher. [NOTE: The gift of PIETY moves us to works of mercy.]

18.        Sixth beatitude [Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.] According to biblical terminology, “cleanness of heart” (verse 8) cannot exclusively be found in interior chastity, nor even, as many scholars propose, in a general purity of conscience, as opposed to the Levitical, or legal, purity required by the Scribes and Pharisees. But frequently in the Old and New Testaments (Genesis 20:5; Job 33:3, Psalms 23:4 (24:4) and 72:1 (73:1); 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:22) the “pure heart” is the simple and sincere good intention, the “single eye” of Matthew 6:22., as opposed to the duplicitous Pharisees (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18; 7:15; 23:5-7, 14) . Conchita tells us what Christ told her: “Simplify your spirit. Remove all complications coming from creatures and things. Love Me in Unity; live, breathe, act….You must live in this essential Unity, in this Unique God, bringing together your spiritual life in one only Love: Him in one only will: His.” Cleanness of heart, simplicity, purity of intention mean undivided, not mixed with anything else but the Divine. One heart, one mind, one will…that of God.

19.       Seventh beatitude [Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God] The “peacemakers” (verse 9) are those who not only live in peace with others but moreover do their best to preserve peace and friendship among mankind and between God and man, and to restore it when it has been disturbed. It is on account of this godly work, “an imitating of God’s love of man” as St. Gregory of Nyssa styles it, that they shall be called the sons of God, “children of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:45).

20.       Eighth beatitude [Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.] When after all this the pious disciples of Christ are repaid with ingratitude and even “persecution” (verse 10) it will be but a new blessing, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

21. So, by an inclusion, not uncommon in biblical poetry, the last blessing goes back to the first and the second. The pious, whose sentiments and desires, whose works and sufferings are held up before us, shall be blessed and happy by their share in the Messianic kingdom, here and hereafter. The eight conditions required constitute the fundamental law of the kingdom, the very pith and marrow of Christian perfection. For its depth and breadth of thought, and its practical bearing on Christian life, the passage may be put on a level with the Decalogue in the Old, [the Ten Commandments] and the Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament, and it surpassed both in its poetical beauty of structure.

22.       THE MAGNIFICAT  is steeped…in Scriptural thought and phraseology, summing up in its inspired ecstasy the economy of God with His Chosen People, indicating the fulfillment of the olden prophecy and prophesying anew until the end of time, the Magnificat is the crown of the Old Testament singing, the last canticle of the Old and the first of the New Testament. It was uttered (or, not improbably, chanted) by the Blessed Virgin, when she visited her cousin Elizabeth under the circumstances narrated by St. Luke in the first chapter of his Gospel. It is an ecstasy of praise for the inestimable favour bestowed by God on the Virgin, for the mercies shown to Israel, and for the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham and to the patriarchs. Only four points of exegesis will be noted here. Some commentators distinguish the meaning of “soul” (or “intellect”) and “spirit” (or “will”) in the first two verses; but, in view of Hebrew usage, probably both words mean the same thing, “the soul with all its faculties”. In v. 48, “humility” probably means the “low estate”, or “lowliness”, rather than the virtue of humility.

23.      LUKE 1: 41 No sooner had Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, than the child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Ghost; 42 so that she cried out with a loud voice, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43 How have I deserved to be thus visited by the mother of my Lord? 44 Why, as soon as ever the voice of thy greeting sounded in my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed art thou for thy believing; the message that was brought to thee from the Lord shall have fulfilment.

24.      NOTE: The dichotomy or division in the Magnificat is the same as that of the Beatitudes: the poor & hungry/rich, proud/humble, mighty/oppressed. The mercy of God is on the meek, the humble/lowly, on the just—those who fear Him. Clear too, is that the justice of God will fall hard on the greedy, the proud, those who oppress others. In His every act of mercy through the ages, He fulfills his promise, His Covenant with the children of Abraham—now, especially in the beginning of the New Covenant with the Incarnation. Remember that these are the only words of Mary that we have, and that her canticle came even before the birth of Christ and his first sermon & Beatitudes. From this we can see how close old Testament spirituality and the spirituality of Mary approach that of Christ. The Psalms reveal many details of this spirituality in actual prayers.

46 And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord;
47 my spirit has found joy in God, who is my Saviour,
48 because he has looked graciously upon the lowliness of his handmaid. [anawim]
Behold, from this day forward all generations will count me blessed;
49 because he who is mighty, he whose name is holy,* has wrought for me his wonders.
50 He has mercy upon those who fear him, from generation to generation;
51 he has done valiantly with the strength of his arm,
driving the proud astray in the conceit of their hearts;
52 he has put down the mighty from their seat, and exalted the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty-handed.
54 He has protected his servant Israel, keeping his merciful design in remembrance, 55 according to the promise which he made to our forefathers,
Abraham and his posterity for evermore.

25.     *”His name is holy”— In the process of Salvation History, God takes care to teach His people that He is Holy, even the holiness of His Name: “The… name of God…could be pronounced by the high priest only once a year on the Day of Atonement in the Holy of Holies…and in the Temple by the priests when they recited the Priestly Blessing.”[14] The Mishnah reflects these traditions that existed in the Judaism of Yeshua’s [Jesus] day: “And the priests and people standing in the courtyard, when they would hear the Expressed Name [of the Lord] come out of the mouth of the high priest, would kneel and bow down and fall on their faces and say, ‘Blessed be the name of the glory of his kingdom forever and ever’” (m.Yoma 6:2).[15] There was a protocol for using the proper name of God, and it is clear that Yeshua adhered to it during His Earthly ministry. In the Gospels Yeshua [Jesus] actually spends more time calling His Father, “Father” or “Abba,” than referring to Him as God or Lord. []
*In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Hallowed [holy] be Thy Name.”

SUPPLEMENT:  BIBLICAL JUSTICE – Use this with Biblical History

1. Justice is Care for the Vulnerable.   The Hebrew word for “justice,” mishpat, occurs in its various forms more than 200 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably. It means acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case, regardless of race or social status. Anyone who does the same wrong should be given the same penalty.

2. Mishpat, then, is giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care. But mishpat means more than just the punishment of wrongdoing. It also means giving people their rights. Deuteronomy 18 directs that the priests of the tabernacle should be supported by a certain percentage of the people’s income. This support is described as “the priests’ mishpat,” which means their due or their right. Mishpat, then, is giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care.

3. This is why, if you look at every place the word is used in the Old Testament, several classes of persons continually come up. Over and over again, mishpat describes taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor—those who have been called “the quartet of the vulnerable.” In premodern, agrarian societies, these four groups had no social power. They lived at subsistence level and were only days from starvation if there was any famine, invasion or even minor social unrest. Today, this quartet would be expanded to include the refugee, the migrant worker, the homeless and many single parents and elderly people.

4. The mishpat, or justness, of a society, according to the Bible, is evaluated by how it treats these groups. Any neglect shown to the needs of the members of this quartet is not called merely a lack of mercy or charity but a violation of justice, of mishpat. God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we. That is what it means to “do justice.”

5.     Justice Reflects the Character of God. Why should we be concerned about the vulnerable ones? It is because God is concerned about them. It is striking to see how often God is introduced as the defender of these vulnerable groups. Realize, then, how significant it is that the biblical writers introduce God as “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows” (Psalm 68:4-5). This is one of the main things He does in the world. He identifies with the powerless. He takes up their cause.

6. Justice is Right Relationships. We must have a strong concern for the poor, but there is more to the biblical idea of justice than that. We get more insight when we consider a second Hebrew word that can be translated as “being just,” though it usually translated as “being righteous.” The word is tzadeqah, and it refers to a life of right relationships.

7. When most modern people see the word “righteousness” in the Bible, they tend to think of it in terms of private morality, such as sexual chastity or diligence in prayer and Bible study. But in the Bible, tzadeqah refers to day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity and equity.  It is not surprising, then, to discover that tzadeqah and mishpat are brought together scores of times in the Bible.

8. These two words roughly correspond to what some have called “primary” and “rectifying justice.” Rectifying justice is mishpat. It means punishing wrongdoers and caring for the victims of unjust treatment. Primary justice, or tzadeqah, is behavior that, if it was prevalent in the world, would render rectifying justice unnecessary, because everyone would be living in right relationship to everyone else. Therefore, though tzadeqah is primarily about being in a right relationship with God, the righteous life that results is profoundly social.

9. Primary justice, or tzadeqah, is behavior that, if it was prevalent in the world, would render rectifying justice unnecessary, because everyone would be living in right relationship to everyone else.

10. Rectifying justice, or mishpat, in our world could mean prosecuting the men who batter, exploit and rob poor women. It could also mean respectfully putting pressure on a local police department until they respond to calls and crimes as quickly in the poor part of town as in the prosperous part. Another example would be to form an organization that both prosecutes and seeks justice against loan companies that prey on the poor and the elderly with dishonest and exploitive practices.

11. Primary justice, or tzadeqah, may mean taking the time personally to meet the needs of the handicapped, the elderly or the hungry in our neighborhoods. Or it could mean the establishment of new nonprofits to serve the interests of these classes of persons. It could also mean a group of families from the more prosperous side of town adopting the public school in a poor community and making generous donations of money and pro bono work in order to improve the quality of education there.

12. When these two words, tzadeqah and mishpat, are tied together, as they are over three dozen times, the English expression that best conveys the meaning is “social justice.”

13. Justice includes Generosity. Many readers may be asking at this point why we are calling private giving to the poor “justice.” Some Christians believe that justice is strictly mishpat—the punishment of wrongdoing, period. This does not mean they think believers should be indifferent to the plight of the poor, but they would insist that helping the needy through generous giving should be called mercy, compassion or charity—not justice. In English, however, the word “charity” conveys a good but optional activity. Charity cannot be a requirement, for then it would not be charity. But this view does not fit in with the strength or balance of the biblical teaching.

14. In the Scripture, gifts to the poor are called “acts of righteousness,” as in Matthew 6:1-2. Not giving generously, then, is not stinginess but unrighteousness, a violation of God’s law. In the book of Job, we see Job call every failure to help the poor a sin, offensive to God’s splendor (Job 31:23) and deserving of judgment and punishment (v. 28). Remarkably, Job is asserting that it would be a sin against God to think of his goods as belonging to himself alone. To not “share his bread” and his assets with the poor would be unrighteous, a sin against God, and therefore by definition a violation of God’s justice.

15. Despite the effort to draw a line between “justice” as legal fairness and sharing as “charity,” numerous Scripture passages make radical generosity one of the marks of living justly. The just person lives a life of honesty, equity and generosity in every aspect of his or her life. If you are trying to live a life in accordance with the Bible, the concept and call to justice are inescapable. We do justice when we give all human beings their due as creations of God. Doing justice includes not only the righting of wrongs but generosity and social concern, especially toward the poor and vulnerable.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s