A friend asked this question of me knowing my promiscuous appreciation for Robert Capon…
What do you think Robert Capon would say about Matthew 5:13-20?
(Thinking about Sunday’s sermon)
I don’t find at this point anything that RC has said on that text. I’m sure that he homilied it more than a few times.
The Beatitudes are not simple. I’m constantly being challenged by what Jesus is recorded to have said in this setting. I’m constantly in flux relative to what I think it means to me and us as “church”.
Be that as it may, let me start with what Dallas Willard says about the Beatus;
“The Beatitudes, in particular, are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God or good for human beings.
“No one is actually being told …that they are better off for being poor, for mourning, for being persecuted, or so on, or that the conditions listed are recommended ways to well-being before God or man. Nor are the Beatitudes indications of who will be on top ‘after the revolution.’ They are explanations and illustrations, drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus. They single out cases that provide proof that, in him, the rule of God from the heavens truly is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope.”
-Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy
I think that Willard is correct that in the parables Jesus isn’t telling us to do anything—they are not moral stories, rather stories that give us some insight into what the Father (and at times the Son) is like and how radically is the oikonomia of the Kingdom of the Heavens from the powers and principalities of the present age. I know from my extensive reading (even a superficial reading would serve) that RCapon wrote the same kinds of things and had the same understanding of Willard in this.
To establish the context I’ll copy/paste Eugene Peterson’s take on the passage;
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down 2 and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. 12 You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
14 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. 15 If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. 16 Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. 17 “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures— either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. 18 God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.
Knowing full well, as we do, that RC’s shibboleth of Grace rest on the lost, the least, and the last—I’m now forced/constrained to view the Gospel narratives through that systematic lens. How do we–the down and out at the end of our ropes, we who have lost everything we once thought indispensable (especially our own egoic pride), we have ceased from taking ourselves seriously, have entirely different “appetites” than what is considered “normal” by our competitive and sex and violence addicted society, we who would rather spend time in contemplation than amusing ourselves to death with “reality” TV, and have more appetite for constructive relationships than trying to figure out who’s in and who’s out with God…Yeah, us “nare do well’s” who just don’t get “how this world works”, so to speak.
So, how are we, the Failures in the sight of the world (everybody are losers, it’s just that some admit it and some don’t…in the final analysis none of us have the power to hold our life intact) who apparently spend our lives in the “lost and found” section of Sears, how is it that Jesus says we are “salt and light”?
My short answer?
By being willing to be viewed as “failures” and “dog dirt” (I Cor. 4:13) by the powers that be (“The World”). In doing that—in reality allowing that to be in us—we are to the world sacraments of Jesus, the Light of Life which has come into the world. Being vulnerable to others will at the surface look like a total failure.
Maybe I can “channel” RC with a paraphrase…
“Jesus is the penultimate loser of a god dying on a loser’s cross—a loser right to the end when he prays, “Father, FORGIVE THEM….”
Nietzsche didn’t criticize Jesus as a failure or loser, rather his criticism was directed toward those who claimed to be Jesus’ followers while at the same time buying into a “tame” successful life in the present which is a repudiation of Christ and thus the “death of God”.