Of course, Jesus did not preach the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:1-12a) only for teachers. The Beatitudes were part of a collection of teachings of Jesus summarized in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt 5-7) for the benefit of all. But the Beatitudes can talk very intimately to the teacher of today.
Because normally the teacher of today is not a social star. S/he does not have the means to do social climbing. Life is very modest, and normally very unassuming. S/he earns some money, so does not live in penury, but this money is hardly enough to make ends meet, especially as the children grow and need more than when they were tots. When special occasions like Christmas or birthdays in the family come, there is the inevitable hustling for resources to acquire extras in life that make life sweet. Why shouldn’t there be crispy pata on the table at Christmas, and why shouldn’t Jun get the celfon he has long been dreaming of on his birthday? But it’s worst when there is serious sickness – like when a mother suffers a stroke or when a child needs an appendectomy. Even as a teacher, how can you deny appropriate medical care to loved ones who lean on you for help during these emergencies?
Of course, in times of crisis there are one’s relatives and friends. But as time passes, needs tend to outgrow income more and more frequently; visits to friends in crisis become more embarrassing, and increasingly fruitless. They too have their needs. They too have to hustle for funds as life’s emergencies come. Sometimes, they even knock on my door for help!
Such a quandary easily brings depression. Life seems so inevitably burdensome, so chronically sad, and so eternally bleak. It easily brings despair. It is in this context that the Gospel says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” Blessed are those whose experience in life has convinced them that there are myriad problems they cannot solve, despite their long years of study and the hero-worship of their admiring students. Blessed are they who have learned that it is fruitless to wallow in the eternal sadness of their helplessness, and that it is permissible to lean on a Power much larger than their powers, on a Teacher much greater than themselves, on a God who insists on being called Father, and intervienes in history to manifest his fatherly love. Blessed are those who are part of the “anawim” who depend fully and totally on this Father. Blessed are they because many serious teachers do not get to this point at all; they prefer to cope with life and with themselves through the astuteness of their concepts, even though these bring so little consolation. Blessed are those who have come to lean on God alone. Theirs is the experience that he is a rock, a fortress, a Shepherd, and a King turned to them in love. Not however a King in royal garments, with bejeweled crown and scepter. “Jesus Christ King of the Jews” referred to Jesus crucified – for us.
“Blessed are those who mourn….” This is the opposite of what is naturally more evident: Blessed are those who laugh! Blessed are those who smile! Blessed are those who have fun in life! Without denying these, “Blessed are those who mourn” underscores the intensified dependence on God that mourning brings. When I mourn the passing of a parent or the death of a child, I acknowledge my helplessness over certain situations, and my surrender to a Will greater than mine. “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” Surrendering to this Will brings it’s own silent, ineffable comfort.
From another perspective, blessed are those who mourn because they have erred. Or because they have sinned. Blessed is the teacher who mourns because he knows his error in judgment has seriously complicated the life of one of his students. Blessed is the teacher who mourns because she knows her backbiting has damaged the reputation of a fellow teacher. Blessed is the teacher who mourns because he has molested a minor, or she has failed a student out of spite. Here, mourning manifests sorrow. If sorrow is genuine, it leads to admission of guilt and apology; it leads to self-correction and self-improvement; it leads to forgiveness. Here, one can recall the mourning of the prodigal son that led him back to his father’s embrace. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
“Blessed are the meek…” Blessed are those who are so secure in their relationship to God and therefore so secure in their relationship to themselves that they don’t need to be pushy in life, they don’t need to play the role they are not, they don’t need to be arrogant. They are blessed because they know God provides for them. “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky: they do not sew, or reap, or gather into barns, yet you’re heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they are?” (Mt.6:25-26). The meek “inherit the land.” Secure in their God and in their selves, in their meekness they quietly push for the truth, they insist on the morally right.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” Blessed is the teacher who hungers and thirsts for what is morally correct. There is so much confusion about that today. The teacher hungers and thirsts for this, because it is so rarely recognized, and even more rarely achieved. What is righteousness in teaching the truth? What is righteousness in articulating the morally imperative? What is righteousness in love and friendship? What is righteousness in seeking a social order that recognizes the dignity of the poor and the social responsibilities of the wealthy? The teacher hungers and thirsts for righteousness first in his/her classroom: in providing the students the instruction they deserve, in preparing well for each lesson, in taking responsibility for each student’s actual learning. But the teacher also hungers and thirsts for righteousness beyond the classroom, in becoming sensitive to situations of injustice, as in cases of environmental destruction or violations of human dignity and human life, and in personally getting involved to stop these. S/he considers it her/his responsibility to form students in these sensitivities and to invite them to act against wrong. The Gospel says, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness “shall be satisfied.” Hopefully, because ultimately for the teacher it is God’s hunger and thirst for righteousness that must be satisfied. There was a time when it was easier to lead students to be indignant against the injustices of the status quo. It was once easier to demonstrate the disjointedness between plush mansions and the hovels of the urban poor. This is no longer easy. The fiery, prophetic teachers of social justice seem to have radically diminished in number, the indignant students have become quiet; the media has much more sway over the students, leading them to a form of hedonistic pragmatism which denies the squalor and suffering in the squatter communities, and the status quo is easier to accept because it is regarded with so little depth. It seems not to be a situation that resonates with the hungering and thirsting of a God who says yes to this world and to the fullness of humanity in this world. “I have come that they may have life and have it in all fullness” (Jn 10:10). This hungering and thirsting cost Jesus his crucifixion and death; but it also brought new life. The resurrected Jesus today still carries his cross as spokespersons for the environment are shot dead and Generals plunder the people’s money with impunity. Jesus’ cross is heavy. The teacher is called to his side.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Immediately, the scenario of the student pleading with a teacher not to be failed comes to mind. The student begs for mercy. Similarly, the familiar situation when the student pleads with a teacher for a grade just one notch higher, so that s/he not lose her/his scholarship. However the teacher responds, the dual demands of fairness to all and of mercy to an individual shall have to be satisfied. From a different perspective, considering the competition in the world and the demands in it for discipline and performance, the teacher is also merciful to the student when s/he does not spoil him/her, lead him/her to complacency, and give him the impression that s/he can sweet talk her/himself out of difficult situations. The warrant for the teacher’s mercy? The good of the student, never the benefit of the teacher. Personal care for the student, never favors for the teacher. The deeper warrant? The heart of the teacher that has personally met difficult situations in the past, and overcame them with the help of a “merciful” teacher, the heart of a teacher that beats with the heart of the Lord that is at one and the same time righteous and merciful.
“Blessed are the clean of heart…” Blessed are those whose hearts are pure. This means, I believe, blessed are those who are in touch with their hearts, and who live in harmony with this. Blessed are those who understand what they are about, and live accordingly. These are persons of integrity; they are “entire,” full, whole, harmonious persons, not persons torn into parts, a part pursing an ideal and two parts pursuing money, two parts seeking the approval of peers, and three parts pursuing comfort and pleasure, not persons with a façade of goodness and an interiority of meanness and ill-will. Blessed are those teachers whose hearts are pure, whose teaching is rooted in a deep sense of being called to teach, whose concern for teaching outcomes is more powerful to them than teaching remunerations, and so are willing to dedicate time and energy to the demands of actual students’ learning and the improvement of the conditions of teaching in the country. The clean of heart “shall see God.” They shall find God in their students walking up for a diploma at graduation, or in their building bridges as engineers or in pleading the cases of the wronged as lawyers. The reward for their integrity is the elation and glory that comes with seeing God – God in the growth of their students in wisdom, age and grace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers…” Blessed are those teachers who know how to stop students from fighting, not just with corporal punishment, but with insight and understanding, promoting understanding and friendship among students, not endless enmity. Blessed are those teachers who see in their teaching a contribution to promoting peace between different peoples, religions, and cultures in our world. These may mean freeing students from cultural stereotypes and enlightening them to the true historical roots of conflict in the world. They may mean awakening students to the importance of researching for truth, not just for academic credits, This is especially true of teaching pertinent to the contemporary conflicts in Mindanao. Teachers need to educate for peace; they need to research for peace, they need to lead their students to peace. The peacemakers shall be called, “the children of God.”
Finally, “blessed are the those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Blessed are the teachers who are willing to take the flack when they stand up to protect a wronged student, or to criticize a colleague in taking advantage of helpless students, or to condemn a miscarriage of justice in the courts, or to denounce an inhumane course of action against the urban poor. Blessed are the teachers who in their own teaching and practice of justice receive the opprobrium of administrators and the condemnation of the unjust status quo. Jesus says: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” Of course, many of these acts of beatitude appear counter cultural, will draw attention to the teacher and make him/her stand out, will force him/her to stand like a David against a global Goliath armed only with a primitive sling. But Jesus is declaring these “blessed,” i.e., receiving favor, strength, courage, joy and ultimately success from the Father who continues to express his Love to us in the Resurrected Lord still carrying his Cross in our classrooms and in our world.
Blessed are the teachers…