Here’s What Jesus Really Taught

Matthew 5:1-11

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the mountain and sat down. They all gathered around, and Jesus taught them.

Rise up and take action, you who are poor in spirit, heaven is yours!
Rise up and take action, you mourners, comfort will come to you!
Rise up and take action, you meek, the world is your inheritance!
Rise up and take action, you who hunger and thirst for justice, you will be satisfied!
Rise up and take action, you who are merciful, and mercy shall be yours!
Rise up and take action, you who are pure in heart, and see God!
Rise up and take action, you peacemakers, you are God’s children!
Rise up and take action, you who are persecuted for doing right, heaven is yours!
Rise up, when people curse you, persecute you, and slander you because you follow me. Laugh it off and keep going, heaven is yours! They persecuted the prophets before you, too.

The following reflection on the Beatitudes comes from Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian, in We Belong to the Land (pp 143 – 144).

Knowing Aramaic, the language of Jesus, has greatly enriched my understanding of Jesus’ teachings. Because the Bible as we know it is a translation of a translation, we sometimes get a wrong impression. For example, we are used to hearing the Beatitudes expressed passively:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
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 children of God.

“Blessed” is the translation of the word makarioi, used in the Greek New Testament. However, when I look further back to Jesus’ Aramaic, I find that the original word was ashray, from the verb yashar. Ashray does not have this passive quality to it at all. Instead, it means “to set yourself on the right way for the right goal; to turn around, repent; to become straight or righteous.”

How could I go to a persecuted young man in a Palestinian refugee camp, for instance, and say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” or “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven?” That man would revile me, say neither I nor my God understood his plight, and he would be right.

When I understand Jesus’ words in the Aramaic, I translate like this:

Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice,  for you shall be satisfied.
Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.

To me this reflects Jesus’ words and teachings much more accurately. I can hear him saying, “Get your hands dirty to build a human society for human beings; otherwise, others will torture and murder the poor, the voiceless, and the powerless.” Christianity is not passive but active, energetic, alive, going beyond despair.

One day two bats fell into a pot of milk. The pessimistic bat said, “What can I do? Will I struggle and sink, and die so very tired? I will not die tired.” He sank and drowned immediately. The optimistic bat said, “I will strive to the end, and at least they will say I tried everything.” She struggled and struggled, trying to fly, until she fainted. Later she awakened and found herself resting safely on a big roll of butter. This is not giving in to despair, but going beyond despair.

“Get up, go ahead, do something, move,” Jesus said to his disciples.

And now we know why Jesus was executed as a revolutionary… He was one.