2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: The Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12)
1Seeing the crowds, he went up the hill. 2There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:
3“How blessed are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are the gentle: they shall have the earth for their heritage.
5Blessed are those who mourn they shall be comforted.
6Blessed those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied.
7Blessed are the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.
8Blessed are the pure in heart: they shall see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God.
10Blessed those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.”
2. 1- Explanation
The Beatitudes proclaim the Kingdom as a grace: “Blessed” at the beginning of each line is a traditional scriptural expression (Psalm 1:1; Prov 3:13; Sirach 25:8-9). It expresses a reward of great blessing, for a person or a community, that they have accepted or will accept. Jesus rewards those distinguished by these qualities by saying that they are eligible for admittance into the Kingdom of God.
In the Beatitudes we find a phrase repeated in the first and the eighth: “…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3 and 10). We also find persons twice blessed for the sake of righteousness (5:6 and 10). The ninth Beatitude (5:11-12) is based on the content of the eighth, but with greater impact as it addresses his listeners – and us – directly.
Beatitudes are categorized in two groups: The first four (Mt 5:3-6) focus on poverty/humility before God. The next four (5:7-10) speak of how we behave with others. The last beatitude reminds us of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd … Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
Each beatitude has its meaning:
– Blessed are the poor in spirit – those who expect nothing from people nor from themselves. Their reliance is entirely on God. The ‘spirit’ in Matthew’s Gospel focuses on the religious and spiritual dimension, without affecting the economic and social dimensions.
– Blessed are the meek – those who live in spiritual infancy. Meekness is based on self-denial, humility and avoiding revenge and anger. It is not a sign of weakness, but of the power of self-control, forgiveness and humility.
– Blessed are those who mourn – the context of the Gospel ‘mourning’ refers to the persecutions the early Christians lived through. Jesus comforts those so afflicted with the promise of consolation to come at the end of time (Is 40:1; 61:3). Consolation grants power, encouragement and hope in the face of hardships.
– Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – Righteousness equates with the will of God. Manna was food given by God to his wandering people in the Sinai desert. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the Word of God, and who eat their fill of His law, in the living water and the bread of Heaven, singing: “The Lord is my Shepherd. I will lack nothing.”
– Works of mercy are not abstract works, but real, helping the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, those in prison, and the stranger (cf. Mt 25:31-46). The mercy of God is bestowed upon us, depending on our actions; we have learned to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
– In the Bible, the heart does not signify only the place where emotion comes from, but is the hidden centre of oneself, the place “to which I withdraw”, the “place of decision … of truth, where we choose life or death …the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation” (CCC 2563).
– Blessed are the peacemakers – Hebrew Shalom is not only a word of political peace, but also of physical and spiritual choices. A peacemaker is not simply a pacifist; he is a maker of mutual understanding and ‘entente’. He will be called a son of God, made in His image as acclaimed by the angels on the day of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:14).
– Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. The theme of the eighth and ninth Beatitudes is persecution, which may come in two forms – physical (exile, imprisonment, execution) and moral (scorn, hurtful criticism, false accusations). Be careful not to persecute others! Yet, if we suffer persecution, know that being persecuted is not exceptional or confined to a particular time of place. According to Jesus, the state of life of every believer involves following God The second person plural “you” (Mt 5:11) is used to signify not only the disciples of the time, but also all Christians down through the centuries.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
The Beatitudes are summarized as follows:
a. Indications: The Beatitudes are, in the first place, actions which indicate something, as shown by the indicative mood of the verbs (that is, stating facts). In effect, they give a value to certain disadvantaged people, and so the ‘wisdom’ of the world is changed. It is not their state of poverty and sadness which is made blessed, but it is the Kingdom of Heaven which turns human and worldly values upside down. Indeed, through him is made manifest the wisdom of the Cross and the Resurrection.
b. Actions: Secondly, the Beatitudes bring the promises of God to actual reality. Note how these Beatitudes are in the “passive tense” (… will be filled … will be shown mercy), leaving room for God to act. Indeed, God is not neutral, and does not stand idly by; rather, He always protects whose whom He loves.
c. Imperatives: Thirdly, the Beatitudes call us to act in accordance with the Kingdom of Heaven. Beatitudes 2-7 are in the future tense (though in Hebrew/Arabic, the present tense indicates both present and future). Thus, it is not only God who is responsible for the future which He has promised, but He has called man also to help Him in his own redemption.