MATTHEW 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus pronounced an exceptional blessing on those who are inwardly spacious, accepting on themselves the full burden of existence, living without a sense of entitlement, pursuing honesty and integrity, reaching out and helping others in need, cultivating pure and wholesome motives, and who are working diligently and patiently for peace.

Once again, we can detect a progression here. From inside to outside, the blessed and truly happy person is one who is deeply rooted in God and compassionately involved in the world. If this is Jesus’ definition of “true religion,” then it is curiously absent of orthodoxy and ceremony – the twin forces that hold together the system of conventional religion.

But there is a price.

Since conventional religion rolls along smoothly so long as its members remain sufficiently entranced, the presence of even one awakened person who sees through all the mystification and pageantry is an intolerable threat. Soon questions will be asked and curiosity will be aroused.

And if these are not checked and thrown under judgment early enough, doubts will arise and the methods for enforcing conformity – catechism for the young and unison creeds for the standing congregation – will be exposed for the propaganda devices they are. The authoritarian system is debunked when just one dissident speaks up for truth. Actually, instead of always leading to disillusionment and collapse, this can be a moment of revelation and revival.

                                                                                  

In retrospect we can see that, while Jesus gave his full attention to the promise of individual awakening, his longer vision was of a community of such enlightened and liberated persons who together can change the world. The full picture of this salvation process reveals the shape of a circle, beginning with the individual’s complete immersion in the collective habits and beliefs of the tribe. This is the place of conventional religion.

Upon the moment of awakening, which may break suddenly or else gather more slowly over time with the accumulation of questions, doubts, and discoveries, the individual is granted a new perspective. The center of meaning shifts from the shared environment of traditions, symbols, rituals and myths, into the inner space of a deepening spirituality.

This is where the all-important “individuative-reflective” stage in faith development takes place, focusing with great intensity on the emergent need for a personal, relevant, and more mystically grounded worldview.

Finally – and this brings us full-circle, though many who make it this far choose at this point to opt out of “organized religion” altogether – the awakened one returns to the group to help in the formation of spiritual community, the corporate life of radical grace, universal compassion, and unconditional forgiveness.

But as we’ve said, conventional religion itself (and conventional society as a whole) resists and will even try to violently suppress the one who seeks the transcendent flame of truth. Better to keep that flame at a distance, framing it in our theologies and worshipping it in our sanctuaries.

If you should dare throw yourself into identity with it, as Jesus did, you’d better expect trouble with the authorities!

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