Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Eight Maids a Milking

A Reflection for the Eighth Day of Christmas

“On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…eight maids a milking.”

Eight maids a milking = The Beatitudes

Scripture: Psalm 46; Matthew 5:1-12

LIVING THROUGH. Opening the gifts from our True Love today, we come to the heart of the Good News shared and lived by Jesus. As sharing apprehends the seven gifts of the Spirit, so the Beatitudes are most often perceived as blessing when we have lived through the tough circumstances to which they are the gracious response. When we respond in Beatitude responses, we will know we have embraced today’s gifts.

RADICAL GIFTS. Of all the twelve days of gifts, these are the most radical. The Beatitudes go to the heart of our deepest passions and life circumstances. They point to gut-wrenching realities of life: poverty and emptiness, loss and grieving, powerlessness and social contempt, spiritual hunger and yearning for right to prevail, seeing needy persons being treated unjustly and neglected, bitter division and violence, religious persecution, insults, gossip, and false accusations. Only heaven-borne grace can conceive of and make possible the radical outlook and actions described in the Beatitudes.

BEYOND RECITATION. It is one thing to learn the Beatitudes, to have memorized them, to be able to quote them. This is often as far as it goes in Christian catechism or Sunday School. But, like the Ten Commandments or the Lord’s Prayer, familiarity does not mean we understand them or joyfully cultivate them as a heart and life orientation beyond a merely formal and legal application. Compliant and eager to be an ideal Christian as I was as a child, I remember inwardly revolting at most of the Beatitudes. It was easier to just recite them and keep them as stained glass phrases. As I have continued to revisit them, my understanding and appreciation has increased, but they are no less challenging thirty years later.

COUNTER CULTURE. The Beatitudes run counter to American machismo and status quo. They unsettle the presumptions of pop evangelical Christianity. On the surface the Beatitudes seem to be a setup for certain failure in society that apparently rewards rugged individualism, conformity to sameness, upward mobility, the appearance of mental or physical toughness, and a thoroughly materialistic and self-indulging orientation to value and action. Dig deeper in the Beatitudes and it gets increasingly difficult to straddle kingdoms. What emerges is that Jesus actually declares people blessed whom Western civilization has over the millennia come to despise or disparage. The rest of Jesus life is one way or another verification that his is an upside down kingdom, an invitation to downward mobility, and an lifting up of all who sorrow, who are relegated to the margins, etc.

RUTHLESS TRUST. Above all, the Beatitudes call for trust. They call for what in one of books Brennan Manning names ruthless trust. Because the blessedness or results described in the Beatitudes seem so far-fetched or distant, they call for ruthless trust in the invitation, worldview, Kingdom order, and certain future Jesus describes. As Manning puts it: “Faith in the person of Jesus and hope in his promise means that his voice, echoing and alive in the Gospels, has supreme and sovereign authority over our lives.” Does it get any more radical than that?

NEW YEAR GRACE. It is appropriate that the Beatitudes are received on the first day of the New Year. So while we wish each other a Happy New Year, we might do better by offering each other a prayer for Beatitude grace. Receive these eight maids a milking, these extraordinary gifts for the year’s journey. And may we also receive the ruthless trust to see them come to fruition in our hearts, lives, and world.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

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