Sunday, January 29, 2017

Honoring the Dishonored

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Matthew 5:1-12, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany. It is, of course, the greatly familiar/unfamiliar beginning of the “Sermon on the Mount” called “The Beatitudes.” There have been so many glib misrepresentations of these pronouncements that I believe it would be most effective not to read a traditional translation/interpretation of them, but to present them somehow differently – perhaps using the word “Honored” in place of “Blessed” or using Young’s Literal Translation, as stilted as it feels at times. I believe this is radical discourse, not warm devotional sound bytes. Perhaps these pronouncements offer us a way of describing “the pursuit of happiness” as something other than a selfish pursuit of comfort, but rather the pursuit of the good life, noble life, integrity, and non-conformity.

I have been greatly influenced by K.C. Hanson’s excellent work on the makarisms at http://www.kchanson.com/ARTICLES/mak.html. Among other things, Hanson argues that the Hebrew ashrê and the Greek makarios do not refer to ritual “blessings,” nor should they be translated to mean “happy.” Furthermore, Hanson points out that Matt 5:3-12 provides the introduction to Jesus' public ministry and Matt 23:13-39 its conclusion. Consequently, he argues, they form honor/shame brackets around Jesus public teaching.

1  Ἰδὼν δὲ τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος: καὶ καθίσαντος αὐτοῦ προσῆλθαν 
αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ: 
Yet having seen the crowd he went up into the mountain; and having been seated, his disciples came to him;
Ἰδὼν: AAPart nsm, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
ἀνέβη: AAI 3s, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend  1a) to go up 
καθίσαντος: AAPart gms, καθίζω, 1) to make to sit down  1a) to set, appoint, to confer a kingdom on one  2) intransitively  2a) to sit down 
προσῆλθαν: AAI 3p, προσέρχομαι, to come or go near to any place or person, to approach.
1. The last chapter ended with great crowds, “And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” It raises the question of whether this introductory verse says that Jesus has withdrawn from the larger crowd to a more intimate group, or whether Matthew is describing that great crowd of followers as ‘disciples.’

2 καὶ ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς λέγων, 
And having opened his mouth he was teaching them saying,
ἀνοίξας: AAPart nms, ἀνοίγω, 1) to open 
ἐδίδασκεν: IAI 3s, διδάσκω, 1) to teach
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak

3 Μακάριοιοἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν  βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν. 
How honored poor in the spirit, because of them is the reign of the heavens.
1. The adjective Μακάριοιοἱ is familiarly translated “blessed are …” or “happy are….” Many biblical scholars call them ‘makarisms,’ a  transliteration of the word  Μακάριοιοἱ, while in popular parlance they are called “the beatitudes,” based on the Vulgate’s translation of the greek Μακάριοιοἱ into the Latin beatitudo.
2. In Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” (Lk. 6:17-39), the makarisms are followed immediately by reproaches, often translated as “Woe to you ….” Matthew also has some reproaches, but not until Mt. 23:13-33.
2. See below K.C. Hanson’s argument for placing the makarisms and reproaches within a 1st century Mediterranean honor/shame framework. I am following Hanson’s argument with my translation of “How honored.”
3. However one translates the word Μακάριοιοἱ, there is no verb in the pronouncement, before the word “because.” Most translations supply the verb “are.” In this first makarism, there is not a definite article for “poor” so while it sounds awkward the rough translation is “How honored poor in the spirit.”
4. I think the translation of Μακάριοιοἱ and the question of how to understand the missing verb is part of the conversation about how to read the makarisms for believers today. Is this an ethical call for how one ought to live? Is it a paradoxical disclosure of what truly is, despite all appearances, in God’s sight? Is it an eschatological vision of how the “poor in spirit,” etc. will be honored when the Reign of the heavens is fully come?  
5. The pronoun αὐτῶν is in the genitive case, which is commonly translated as “of them,” but “to them” or “theirs” is perfectly suitable in a refined translation.
6. Would it help us to feel the radicality of this sermon if we used “Empire of God,” since the term βασιλεία is the term used for the Empire of Rome?

4 μακάριοι οἱ πενθοῦντες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ παρακληθήσονται. 
How honored the ones who mourn, because they will be comforted.
πενθοῦντες: PAPart nmp, πενθέω, 1) to mourn  2) to mourn for, lament one
παρακληθήσονται: FPI 3pl, παρακαλέω, 1) to call to one's side, call for, summon  2) to address, speak to, (call to, call upon), which may be done in  the way of exhortation, entreaty, comfort, instruction, etc.  … 2c) to console, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, to  comfort 
1.    There is a verbal shift between the makarism of v.3 and 4.
Here is how I see the verbs:
v.3 - ἐστιν is present active indicative. “Theirs is the Reign”
vv.4-9, the verbs are future –
4 is passive “they will be comforted”
5 is active “they will inherit”
6-7 are passive  “they will be satiated,” “they will receive mercy”
8 is middle “they will behold”
9 is passive “they will be called”
v.10 is back to the present active indicative “theirs is the Reign”
vv. 11-12 break with the form of the other makarisms dramatically.

5 μακάριοι οἱ πραεῖς, ὅτι αὐτοὶ κληρονομήσουσιν τὴν γῆν. 
How honored the meek, because they will inherit the earth.
κληρονομήσουσιν: FAI 3p, κληρονομέω, 1) to receive a lot, receive by lot  1a) esp. to receive a part of an inheritance, receive as an  inheritance, obtain by right of inheritance  
1. The lexicon offers these meanings word for meek, πραΰς, 1) mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, meekness.
2. I’m really taken with this idea of “inheriting” the earth.  Matthew uses this verb 3 times (here; 19:29; and 25:34), each of which is pretty positive. One not-so-positive use might be the question from the privileged person asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”- which is not in Matthew, but is in Mark and Luke.
3. Inherit the earth. The term γῆν most often is used in Mt as a part of the ‘heaven and earth’ couplet – as in 5:18, 5:34-5; 6:10; 6:19-20; etc. It can also be a reference to a specific area, such as 9:26 where Jesus’ fame went out into all that land. It can mean the ground, where sparrows fall (10:29), Jesus is buried (12:40), seeds germinate (135ff), and money is kept (25:25). There are times when it seems that “earth” represents the passing, temporal, and therefore less valuable things in life (6:19). But, 5:18 refers to both heaven and earth passing, so the difference between heaven and earth is in constant play with the similiarities between them.
4. However Matthew uses “earth” (and the rest of the NT, for that matter), in this verse the promise of inheriting the earth is given as a positive thing.

6 μακάριοι οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην,ὅτι αὐτοὶ 
χορτασθήσονται. 
How honored the ones who hunger for and thirst for the righteousness, because they be will be satiated.
πεινῶντες: PAPart nmp, πεινάω, 1) to hunger, be hungry  1a) to suffer want  1b) to be needy  2) metaph. to crave ardently, to seek with eager desire 
διψῶντες: PAPart nmp, διψάω, 1) to suffer thirst, suffer from thirst  1a) figuratively, those who are said to thirst who painfully feel  their want of, and eagerly long for, those things by which the  soul is refreshed, supported, strengthened 
χορτασθήσονται: FPI 3p, χορτάζω, 1) to feed with herbs, grass, hay, to fill, satisfy with food, to fatten  1a) of animals  2) to fill or satisfy humans

7 μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται.
How honored the merciful, because they will receive mercy.
ἐλεηθήσονται: FPI 3p, ἐλεέω, 1) compassion of (have) to show mercy (more than have compassion), to have the desire of relieving the miserable, to show kindness by beneficence or help.
1. I don’t know how to make ‘mercy’ a passive verb except for something like ‘receive mercy.’ I like ‘be mercified,’ but my computer does not. Hmmph.
2. This makarism is different in that it does not offer an opposition – such as hunger and satiate, or mourn and comfort – but a reflexive turn from offering mercy to receiving mercy.

8 μακάριοι οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται. 
How honored the pure in the heart, because they will behold God.
ὄψονται: FMI 3p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know.
1. Since this verb is in the middle voice, isn’t something like “behold” better than just ‘see’? Maybe my inner poet is overtaking my inner grammarian. Besides, there is a common word for ‘see’ (βλέπω) that does not carry the larger nuances of ὁράω. ὁράω can mean, not just “understand” (as in “I see what you mean) but also activity, as in “see to it that …” (8:4, 9:30, 16:6). It seems that ὁράω implies more than the passive act of having something pass before one’s eyes.

9μακάριοι οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί, ὅτι αὐτοὶ υἱοὶ θεοῦ κληθήσονται. 
How honored the peacemakers, because they will be called children of God.
κληθήσονται: FPI 3p, καλέω, 1) to call 
1. The noun εἰρηνοποιοί quite literally is peace (εἰρην) makers (ποιοί).

10μακάριοι οἱ δεδιωγμένοι ἕνεκεν δικαιοσύνης, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν  
βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν. 
How honored the ones who have been persecuted on account of righteousness, because of them is the reign of the heavens.
δεδιωγμένοι: PerfPPart nmp, διώκω, 1) to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away  2) to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after  2a) to press on: figuratively of one who in a race runs  swiftly to reach the goal  2b) to pursue (in a hostile manner)  3) in any way whatever to harass, trouble, molest one  3a) to persecute  3b) to be mistreated, suffer persecution on account of something
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. Note the parallel with v.3 (ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν  βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν).
2. Would it help us to feel the radicality of this sermon if we used “Empire of God,” since the term βασιλεία is the term used for the Empire of Rome? (I am repeating myself. So is Matthew/Jesus.) 

11μακάριοί ἐστε ὅταν ὀνειδίσωσιν ὑμᾶς καὶ διώξωσιν καὶ εἴπωσιν πᾶν 
πονηρὸν καθ' ὑμῶν [ψευδόμενοι] ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ: 
How honored are (you) when (they) revile you and persecute you and say all evil against you [falsely] on account of me;
ἐστε: PAI 2p, εἰμί 1) to be 
ὀνειδίσωσιν: AASubj 3p, ὀνειδίζω, 1) to reproach, upbraid, revile  (see v.10)
διώξωσιν: AASubj 3p, διώκω, 3a) to persecute  3b) to be mistreated, suffer persecution on account of something
εἴπωσιν: AASubj 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
1. The dramatic change in this verse is the object going from the 3rd person “they” to the 2nd person “you” (plural and implied in the verb).
2. Would it help us to feel the radicality of this sermon if we point out the repetition of the word “persecution”?
3. The preposition ἕνεκεν, used here and in v.10, carries meaning throughout Matthew. See also 10:18, 10:39, 16:25, 19:5 and 19:29.

12 χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθεὅτι ὁ μισθὸς ὑμῶν πολὺς ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς: οὕτως γὰρ ἐδίωξαν τοὺς προφήτας τοὺς πρὸ ὑμῶν. 
Rejoice and be glad, because your reward great in the heavens; for likewise they persecuted the prophets before you.
χαίρετε: PAImpv 2p, χαίρω, 1) to rejoice, to be glad

ἀγαλλιᾶσθε: PAImpv 2p, ἀγαλλιάω, 1) to rejoice exceedingly, to be exceedingly glad 
ἐδίωξαν: AAI 3p, διώκω, 3a) to persecute  3b) to be mistreated, suffer persecution on account of something 
1. Would it help us to feel the radicality of this sermon if we point out the repetition of the word “persecution”? 
2. The only two imperatives in this section of the sermon on the mount are here: "Rejoice" and "be glad." 

2 comments:

  1. Thanks Mark, I don't always add a comment, but always appreciate your good exegetical work. I wonder about the connection of the dishonored ones with the list of all those Matthew identifies in Matt. 4.24. Are these the ones the disciples have been called to fish for?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Mark, I don't always add a comment, but always appreciate your good exegetical work. I wonder about the connection of the dishonored ones with the list of all those Matthew identifies in Matt. 4.24. Are these the ones the disciples have been called to fish for?

    ReplyDelete

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