Saints not status

Frances writes on this Sunday’s readings :- Our reading from the Johannine Letters (1 John 3:1-3) in its Jerusalem Bible translation gives the impression, by its speaking of God’s lavish love for us, that we are thinking about a question of sentiment. But the Greek original is something rather different, it goes like this, “Consider the manner of the love that the Father has given us that we can be called God’s children”. In this form we are invited to consider or ponder upon the implications of such love, both for ourselves and for God. This indeed fits in much better with the later part of our reading which looks to our future in God. Most of us barely even stop to think about our relationship with God at all, let alone our ultimate futures in Him, but our readings for All Saints do provide some pointers to this issue.

Our reading from Apocalypse (Revelation 7:2-4.9-14) offers to us, as it did for the struggling early Christians of Asia Minor for whom it was written, a wake-up call and the promise of a firm conviction and encouragement to those, not unlike ourselves, who found the faith rather less than exciting, and in the writer’s view were not pulling their weight. It is his vision of our ultimate destiny in and with the Father that is so compelling. Rather like the description of the Pentecost experience of Acts 2, with its geography lesson of the spread of the faith around the known world, our writer speaks of the solidarity of the faithful from “Every nation, race, tribe and language” who are offered equal status among the redeemed, and can stand in the presence of the risen Christ (the Lamb). In the status conscious world from which they all came, when differences of citizenship in the Roman empire really mattered and affected your legal rights, and what you could receive by way of corn doles or help during famines, when your status was marked out in the very clothing you could wear or the accent as you spoke, when your very bodily stance would have differentiated the wealthy few from the others in an increasing lessening of significance; just imagine for a moment how stunning it would be to be told that your earthly status now, and more importantly your eternal status, had been won by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and that this cast all earthly divisions into the shade, nay into oblivion! For the hearers of this piece of Biblical writing who lived in an environment completely dominated by class and the different status it gave, such a message would have been utterly stunning in its implications. Even today, it is a difficult concept to grasp for all we bang on about equality and think that we don’t discriminate between those important – ourselves, and those of lesser status, such as the poor and those handicapped in some way, let alone those of different colour and creed. Those of us who post on Facebook can frequently find ourselves alternately uplifted by the generosity of others towards the refugees flooding into Europe, and appalled by the racism and crass inhumanity of others.

The Apocalypse reminds us that in the end, those called to be included among the saved, the saints, will share in the adoration and service of God, as we worship him continually. What we will all share in equally, as the redeemed, is this great privilege of acknowledging God for what he is and for what he has done in us. This is the “Manner of the love that the Father has given us”, a status in which we will all delight as equal sharers, worshippers, adoring the One who has given us everything.

In our Gospel (Matthew 5:1-12) we get an insight from Jesus as to how that destiny might pan out in present day living. The Beatitudes have, sadly been mistranslated and, I suspect totally misunderstood by the translators. These attributes are not a recipe for ‘happiness’, but rather, as the Greek says, “Blessedness”, our becoming God-like.  If they are anything, they are surely a model for divine behaviour, schooling us in the ways of living which emulate God himself in his grace and compassion for his creation. If and when we can begin to see the Beatitudes in this light they will no longer be a boring and rather sanctimonious list for the do-gooder, to be dismissed as impossibly unachievable anyway, but a vision of hope for the creation the Father and Son willed into being, to share with the humanity they believe have it in them to live with a truly God-like capacity and grace.

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