Week Five: Monday, March 11 – Sunday, March 17:
Beatitude Five: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
Jesus was merciful, but didn’t receive mercy. He forgave the people who were about to kill him, but they killed him anyway. Yet we are still haunted by his assertion of the possibility of a world in which mercy works both ways.
Indeed, how can there be any hope of mercy at all, if we don’t take the risk of offering it even in seemingly hopeless situations?
The people of Israel in Jesus’ time were seething with anger at what had become of their country. Insults were added to their injuries every day as the Romans and their Jewish collaborators rode roughshod on their traditions. No wonder, then, that the Zealots and other terrorist groups sought to end the occupation by force.
In this milieu, Jesus preached mercy and peace and humility. Two millennia later, in a world that for many people is no less brutalizing, this Beatitude still calls us to an alternative way of being.
Station Nine: Jesus falls a third time.
Jesus kept falling on his way to Golgotha, in total contradiction to the triumph that greeted him when he came into Jerusalem on the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday. Some of the same people who cheered his rise into fame were now howling at him in derision as he dropped to the ground. The same person who looked like the “king of the Jews” a week before now looked like a common criminal.
Station Ten: The soldiers strip Jesus of his garments and draw lots to determine which one gets his clothing.
The Roman soldiers who executed Jesus played a game of chance to decide which of them would get his garments. They left him naked on the cross. Nakedness is shameful today, but it was much more shameful in that culture at that time.
How have others shown mercy – forgiveness and patience – to you? How have you shown mercy to others? Who needs your mercy, and can you offer it to them?
Has your self-concept ever changed due to a loss or change of roles?
Who are you, apart from your appearance, status, etc? What is most basic about who you are? If everything external fell away, who would you be?
When have you felt “naked”, figuratively speaking? When have you felt far too exposed to others? What was it like?
What do you have to hide from yourself, from others, and from God? What would it be like for those hidden things within you to be exposed completely?
Meditation on your Lenten Action:
Where do you find resonance, meaning, and inspiration in these Stations, and in this Beatitude, in the course of your work of service or advocacy so far?
Turn a box into a “die”, with “dots” for the numbers one through six on each side. Make the “dots” out of drawings or magazine cut-out images representing people or things that need mercy – forgiveness, reconciliation, and care.
Introduction to this Guide (repeated each week)
LENT prepares us to encounter the mystery and power in the stories of the death and resurrection of the Christ. It is the time in the traditional Christian calendar to experience the transformative meanings of the Passion story. This guide focuses on the Beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and on the fourteen Stations of the Cross, which symbolize the events remembered on Good Friday.
The Beatitudes are recorded in Matthew chapter 5 and a shorter version in Luke chapter 20. The Sermon on the Mount begins with this manifesto of hope and promise. They introduce the heart of Jesus’ teaching to his followers. Jesus’ nine Beatitudes address the suffering which so many of his followers experienced in everyday life in Roman-occupied Israel. Luke’s shorter set of sentences is more focused on tangible poverty and oppression.
The Stations of the Cross are an old Catholic Christian tradition. They mark fourteen stages along the path from Jesus’ condemnation to death until his burial (Luke 23). To this day, many Catholic churches have statues or plaques installed inside their sanctuaries or outside in their gardens, each marking one of the Stations. They are more than a simple rendition of the story found in the gospels. Some of the Stations correspond to actual passages in the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ Passion. But others have no corresponding verses in the New Testament. Jesus’ encounter with Veronica, for example, at Station number 6, is based on a legend that developed long after the biblical era. The Stations have always been evocative and interpretive, rather than simple historical representations. They remind us that we have great freedom to read new meanings into Christianity.
This guide invites you to walk with the Beatitudes and the Stations, a few steps at a time, through each of the weeks of Lent. It invites you to join in study, conversation, meditative prayer, artistic creativity, and compassionate action. It can be used for private devotion, for group study and practice, or for integration into study and worship in a church congregation.
This guide presumes that:
1) … the parts of the Passion and Easter stories that appear to be fanciful or supernaturalistic do not need to be taken literally in order for us to experience their extraordinary significance. The myth and poetry in these stories are portals into the realm of the soul. They provide us with essential structures of meaning, and guide us toward higher consciousness and greater compassion. “Just because something didn’t really happen doesn’t mean it isn’t really true!”
2) … the historical context of the Beatitudes and the Passion and Easter stories offers us a useful lens through which to interpret them. The social and political circumstances of Jesus’ time can serve as mirrors for us to reflect on the personal and public moral choices that lie before us today.
3) … the stories and traditions of Lent and Easter are many-layered. They meet us at historical, political, mystical, transpersonal, moral, intellectual, and aesthetic levels. You are invited to explore them all!
You are invited, as an individual or as a group, to commit to action for positive social change during Lent. This can take many forms: service to the homeless, working on a campaign, or many other types of charitable and/or advocacy work for the common good, whether as a volunteer or as a professional. It can be an ongoing work of service, or a short-term commitment during the weeks of Lent. (See the “links” at www.beatitudessociety.org for suggestions of organizations in which you can become involved.) Each week, this guide invites you to reflect on your experiences and observations in the course of this work.
Recommended books to accompany this Lent study:
Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (Paperback)
by Marcus J. Borg (Harper One, 2008)
Campaign Boot Camp: Basic Training for Future Leaders (Paperback)
by Christine Pelosi (Polipoint Press, 2007)
The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem (Hardcover)
by Marcus J. Borg, John Dominic Crossan (Harper One, 2006)
Jesus: A New Vision by Marcus Borg (Harper One, 1991)
The Five Gospels: The search for the authentic words of Jesus, by the Jesus Seminar (Polebridge Press, 1993)