LT Essays #5:

The Sermon on the Mount

n the Beatitudes, we find a fulcrum point for the social mission of liberation theology vs. the traditional emphasis on a personal salvation that transcends secular concerns. The two attitudes seem to be antithetical, and they have engendered great theological controversy. But it seems to me that, unlike the real difference between Marxism and capitalism, this difference is apparent only. It can be resolved, at a deeper level.

Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness; for they shall be filled.
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 are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for they shall be called children of God.
Now these are difficult words. Many people see them -- quite understandably -- as powerful tools for the mass-marketing of oppression. Think of it: if only we can get people to believe that eternal life depends on their being poor, meek, mournful, hungry, persecuted peacemakers! Why, we can march right in and get all the diamonds and gold! Sadly, millions of TV viewers, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, have sent their money to finance the theme parks, cable networks, and presidential aspirations of televangelists. Religion has proved to be such a powerful force for evil that many despair of it ever mustering equal potency for good.

Nevertheless: if we are poor in spirit, our hearts are not addled by envy. If we allow ourselves to mourn, we are not lonely, sealed off from human connection. If we are meek we stand less chance of sudden death from a heart attack; if we are merciful we simply feel better about walking down the street. If we are pure in heart we have fewer headaches, better digestion, and our jokes, when we can remember the punchlines, get merrier laughs. Are these things not blessings?

Social action is by no means irreconcilable with personal salvation; they are the same thing. In the end, what liberation theology liberates us from is the delusion that we might, somehow, be able to escape the fundamental paradox of human existence: that while we die alone, we live in a community.

Lindy Davies