Properties of Blood I B

Exiled Children of Eve, B

Beatitudes, Not Platitudes

It is commonly believed that, as Judas went away from the disagreement over the wasted oil, he was disgruntled over Jesus' failure to lead a social revolution.  It is certainly true that Jesus' answer remains a powerful rebuke to those who would confound the gospel with one or another form of state-imposed socialism.  The poor, whom we always have with us, will be taken care of properly only when we freely behave as Christians and not when Caesar, at the point of a sword, requires us to render doubly unto him so that he can purchase political power with our tribute.

Jesus, however, though he was no socialist, was also neither capitalist nor “conservative" in the Anglo-American sense, and His moral message is far more alarming than Marx or Marxist Catholic bishops seem to have realized.  The melding of Christian and Marxist perspectives often goes by the name of the “Social Gospel,” whose message, whether expressed by liberal Protestants or Catholic bishops, is at best a collective appeal to check-writing philanthropy and at worst a systematized hypocrisy.  In essence Christian socialists tell us to go about our business as mankind has always done, lying, cheating, stealing, so long as we pay the state to redistributes some portion of our wealth to the poor—a small price to pay for a "Get Out of Hell Free" card.  Christ, by contrast, turns our most highly cherished values—pride, ambition, greed, rugged individualism--upside down or, rather, inside-out.

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:  And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,  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 which do hunger and thirst after 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 the children of God.  Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

To understand the Sermon in its context, it may help to recall that it is delivered shortly after Jesus had been led into the Wilderness to be tested by Satan.  In an effort to find out who his person really is, the Tempter suggests that He perform a series of miracles that will prove his identity:  turn stone into bread to satisfy His hunger, defy gravity by jumping off a tall building and get rescued by angels, and accept authority and power over all the kingdoms of the earth, for which he only has to worship Satan, a lesser and created being.  In each case, Jesus reveals Himself by rejecting the offer:  Man does not live by bread alone, but by the word of God; We are commanded not to tempt the Lord; and, finally, to the offer to worship Satan and rule the world, he instructs him to be gone: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”

Put in human context, Jesus has been given the opportunity to minister to physical well being, make a display of power over nature, and rule this world at the price of worshipping a created being.  Each offer is something that most of us, no matter how well-intentioned would jump at.  Imagine all the good I might do if I could feed the world’s poor and rule the nations with justice and charity!  The price, if it is too high for Christ himself, is unquestionably too high for Christians to pay, though rulers and governments claiming to be Christian will fail these very tests repeatedly throughout history.

Properly read, Jesus’ replies to Satan can be summed up by his answer to a representative of one of the world’s rulers: My kingdom is not of this world.  But neither are his own counter-proposals an expression of worldly wisdom.  In this first recorded sermon of Jesus Christ, the conventional wisdom (not just of Jews but of Greeks and Romans and modern Americans who have some notion of what they believe) is turned on its head.  Failure and poverty, which were regarded as unmitigated miseries in the ancient world, are celebrated.  Good fortune, wealth, and power, which had been regarded as signs of divine favor, now counted for nothing.


Avatar photo

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

2 Responses

  1. Harry Heller says:

    The really interesting question is the perennial one of the nature of duty: what would you have me do, O Lord? Is there a ready answer to this question? Is there a justification for Christian action in the world? Does the world and its condition matter? Does it matter if Iran acquires nuclear weapons? For a Christian, it would not matter metaphysically. Christians have commonly been described with the metaphor “pilgrims”, as though this physical world is not their true home. If they are blasted to smithereens by a Shiite holocaust, perhaps that should be of little concern to them now. Just go about living a Christian life, and put your trust in God.

    But that answer seems unsatisfactory. The world was created for a purpose. Men must struggle to live in it (otherwise, why the condemnation of suicide?). A responsible husband and father tries to protect those under his care. Surely a statesman has the same duty towards his people. Enoch Powell, in his now legendary “rivers of blood” speech, had a famous line about a statesman being one who sought to avoid preventable (future) evils, such as will inevitably flow from Europe’s insane ethnonational suicide via mass immigration invasions, or may flow from allowing psychotic Ayatollahs to gain nuclear weapons. Again, every political question returns to the first one: should the world and its condition matter to a Christian? I think so, though I would enjoy hearing from those more learned. And if so, then much derided concepts like “preemption” or “anticipatory self-defense” no longer seem so problematic, and of course, whole new vistas of intellectual investigation into the lineaments of the Good Society, justice, morality, etc. , are opened up.

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    The Scriptures and the early Church speak the language of command even more than of obligation. Old Enoch was a rather eccentric sort of Christian, to judge from his view of the composition of the Gospels, but as a Christian statesman, he was among the few worthy of respect in the last century.

    The first two volumes of this book project only take up tangentially the question of political obligations of statesmen, because they are primarily written to take up questions of personal responsibility in our various roles as children, parents, spouses, friends, and neighbors. If I live to finish it all, I shall finish my work on the Christian commonwealth. Nonetheless, along the way, there are even in the first chapters discussions of our duties to our own fellow-citizens.

    This world is not the true home of the Christian viewed sub specie aeternitatis, but it is the one home we have to live in while we are here, and unless we are monks, we have a duty to take care of our home in the here and now, if only because we are assured that those who fail in their duty here will be judged there in the next world.