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Go Ahead, Do Something

The Sermon on the Mount

Go Ahead, Do Something
Wednesday, July 21, 2021

My fellow Albuquerque resident Megan McKenna is an author, storyteller, and theologian who challenges us to imitate Jesus. She writes of the importance of translation when it comes to understanding the meaning of Jesus’ words:

The blessings and woes have so much depth and latitude, so many layers of meaning that are unveiled throughout the gospel of Luke, especially in the parables. Even the meaning of the word beatitude is rich and complex when seen from different perspectives. . . . [In Elias Chacour’s book We Belong to the Land] there is a marvelous description of a beatitude that enhances our understanding of what Jesus means when he says “blessed are you.”

Knowing Aramaic, the language of Jesus, has greatly enriched my understanding of Jesus’ teaching. Because the Bible as we know it is a translation of a translation, we sometimes get a wrong impression. For example, we are accustomed to hearing the Beatitudes expressed passively:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

“Blessed” is the translation of the word makarioi, used in the Greek New Testament. However, when I look further back to Jesus’ Aramaic, I find that the original word was ashray, from the verb yashar. Ashray does not have this passive quality to it at all. Instead, it means “to set yourself on the right way for the right goal; to turn around, repent.”. . .

How could I go to a persecuted young man in a Palestinian refugee camp, for instance, and say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” or “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”? That man would revile me, saying neither I nor my God understood his plight and he would be right.

When I understand Jesus’ words in Aramaic, I translate like this:

Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for you shall be satisfied.

Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.

To me this reflects Jesus’ words and teachings much more accurately. I can hear him saying: “Get your hands dirty to build a human society for human beings; otherwise, others will torture and murder the poor, the voiceless, and the powerless.” Christianity is not passive but active, energetic, alive, going beyond despair. . . .

“Get up, go ahead, do something, move,” Jesus said to his disciples. [1]

Megan McKenna concludes:

The beatitudes mean deeper mercy for those who experience more divisive misery, deeper blessings for those whose hope is dimmest. They give an ultimate authority to certain people and their plight in the world. They signify not just a religious attitude, but a social attitude toward realities that should not exist among humans.

References:
[1] Elias Chacour with Mary E. Jensen, We Belong to the Land: The Story of a Palestinian Israeli Who Lives for Peace and Reconciliation (HarperSanFrancisco: 1990), 143, 144.

Megan McKenna, Blessings and Woes: The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke (Orbis Books: 1999), 22–23.

Story from Our Community:
Living in liminal space has made more and more sense to me over the years. It reminds me that my actions matter. If I love God with all my strength, love my neighbor as myself, and practice the beatitudes as best I can, everything else falls in place. While I am not capable of doing all of the above perfectly, I do get better over time by having a focus on my actions. —Allan Y.

Image credit: Oliver, Street Piano (detail), 2010, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0
Image inspiration: A public piano is for everyone. The sound of the notes is a gift, made by ordinary people, rippling outward toward passersby. The beauty of shared music is present, whether or not the people who hear it respond.
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