Courses

The Historical Jesus: Lecture Five


Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
"Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. lainRejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

In contrast to the much fuller and more ecclesiastical version of the "Beatitudes" found in Matthew, Q has a much briefer form. In this Q version the blessed one is not one who is poor in the spiritual realm or in spiritual things; here poverty is the more tangible and widespread genuine destitution of the average Galilean peasant. So, in essence, what Jesus here teaches is that there will be a great "reversal of fortune". All who are poor now will one day be rich because they will participate in the Kingdom of God. This raises a very important issue in historical Jesus research; is the Kingdom a present reality or a future reality to Jesus? That is, is the kingdom present, or is it an eschatological kingdom to come at some distant time in the future?

The results of my research would indicate that, for the historical Jesus, the kingdom of God is a present reality. The rule of God is happening now and one need not wait for some future eschatological event when it will come. Of course there are scholars who suggest that the kingdom is a future reality which will be brought in at the end of time. This approach, I think, is to misread Jesus.

To be sure, many in the early Church, after the death of Jesus, pushed the kingdom into the future by making it a spiritual realm. But so far as I can tell, for Jesus himself, the kingdom was at hand; and anything at hand cannot be 2000 years off in the distance!

In any event, Jesus taught that destitution was not the worst thing that could happen to a person. The worst thing that could happen was to be uninvolved in the kingdom of God! So he pronounces blessed all those who, though poor in things were rich in grace. In this way Jesus was able to supplant the materialism of his day and of his people.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

This segment of Q describes the complete rule of love in the hearts of those who would adhere to Jesus and participate in the kingdom of God. Love must, for such people, be the guiding principle and force of their everyday lives. They must not give in to rudeness, cruelty, indifference, harshness or hatred. Even when attacked and belittled for their kingdom views they must not retaliate. They must live on a higher plain than the run of the mill Palestinian peasant. They must put to shame the materialism of their Roman overlords. They must, above all else, not give place to the meanness of society. If this is done, then they can truly know that the kingdom of God is alive and well in them; and that they are a part of it.

The ethic of love taught by Jesus was quite revolutionary in his day. Though there are Rabbinic parallels to many of the sayings of Jesus, his overarching ethic of love for the downtrodden is without peer in any ancient document. Perhaps in this ethic of love we are at our very closest to the mind and will of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth. Here it is that we see him as he was; for the Church could not and would not have invented such unlikely sayings which would stand in constant tension with the real situation of a status seeking institution.