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Sunday Scripture: Blessed are you

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

By Terrance Callan

All Saints: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a

This Sunday we celebrate the feast of All Saints. On other days of the year we commemorate particular saints. On this day we commemorate all who have attained the goal of human life — union with God forever. And we remember that where they have gone, we hope to follow.

The reading from the Book of Revelation describes a vision of the saints. This is the end of a series of visions of the great calamities that will occur at the end of the world. The vision begins with the sealing of 144,000 people, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel, to protect them from the tribulations of the end. Then, however, the focus widens to “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” These are the saints in heaven, praising God forever as they stand before the throne of God and the Lamb, i.e., Jesus.

One of the elders explains, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

The saints are those who have accepted salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is how they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. And having been saved by Jesus, the saints have remained faithful to Him throughout the trials of life.

The reading from the Gospel according to Matthew presents a similar perspective on the saints. This reading consists of the familiar beatitudes that Jesus pronounced as He began His sermon on the mount. In each of these beatitudes Jesus declared that people who do not seem to be particularly fortunate are actually blessed because they will receive a blessing in the future. Some of these people are suffering, e.g., the sorrowing, the lowly, the persecuted. Others do good works, e.g., the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers. All are blessed because they will be with God forever. Each group is promised a reward that suits its situation. For example, the sorrowing will be comforted. However, these are simply different ways of saying that all are blessed because they will reach the goal of human existence, which is life forever with God.

Jesus can say that they are blessed because He has been sent by God to save them.  It is because He has come to be crucified and raised from the dead for their salvation that all these categories of people are blessed. Jesus presumes that all these people will accept Him as the savior sent by God and remain faithful to Him despite difficulties; this will lead to their blessing. The final beatitude says this explicitly:  “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

The reading from the First Letter of John offers us another way of understanding our call to be saints. The reading begins, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” Because we have put our faith in Jesus, the son of God, we too are children of God. That is what we are already, but we are destined for something far greater. “We are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

In the future we will see God, and seeing God will make us like God.  To be a saint is to become like God.

Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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