Chapter 5: The Sermon on the Mount – The Beatitudes
God gave Moses on Mount Sinai the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments – the basis of the Older Testament and its essence. Jesus taught the Beatitudes on the Mountain – the basis and essence of his teachings. Mountains are topographically the closest to God, places of inspiration and appropriate places for God and Man to meet. The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most beautiful passages in all the books of the world; and many scholars find in it the quintessence of the Gospel and of Christian life.
Has anyone told you before: “Well done, boy!”? What would make people congratulate each other? Jesus is congratulating us through the Beatitudes, which will lead us to the Kingdom of God. Is this new compared to the teachings of the Jews of the past, or does the novelty of the content concern humanity as a whole? This is what we’ll explore in the first sermon of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.
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.
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: The Kingdom of God
God created man to share in His life, in His love and in His joy, and so man searches for life, love and joy from the depth of his heart. But sin and worldly concerns sow in him sadness instead of joy, hatred instead of love, and death instead of life. However, God does not abandon his creature but remains faithful to His love, sending prophets and messengers amongst His people to enkindle in them the promise of the Kingdom to come.
The Jewish people thought Christ would come to reign in the manner of earthly kings. However, Jesus reminded us often and in various ways that “my Kingdom is not of this world”. His rule is different from human beings and never chases after money, war and invasions.
His Kingdom is not of this world, but its starting point is in it. Jesus said: “The Kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). In other words, Jesus wished to say that when God reigns in your minds and in your hearts, and when you act according to God’s call, at that moment, you will be able to savour a foretaste of Heaven, because the love of God is our path to Redemption. Yet, man lives in an earthly world where he can never be “exclusively” devoted to God. The Kingdom of God, then, shall be complete in Heaven, where the new life with God shall be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).
The Gospel speaks of the completion of the Kingdom when God fulfils His promises of the Old Testament in a unique and wholesome manner; indeed, the realisation of the promise in Jesus surpasses all expectations.
4- Reading and Meditation: A reading from St Augustine (354-430)
Beauty Ancient and New
Late have I loved You, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved You! For behold You were within me, and I outside; and I sought You outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that You have made. You were with me and I was not with You. 1was kept from You by those things, yet had they not been in You, they would not have been at all. You did call and cry to me and break open my deafness; and You did send forth Your beams and shine upon me and chase away my blindness; You did breathe fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and do now pant for You; I tasted You, and now hunger and thirst for You; You did touch me, and I have burned for Your peace.
When once I shall be united to You with all my being, there shall be no more grief and toil, and my life will be alive, filled wholly with You. You raise up him whom You do fill; whereas being not yet filled with You I am a burden to myself. The pleasures of this life for which I should weep are in conflict with the sorrows of this life in which I should rejoice, and I know not on which side stands the victory. Woe is me, Lord, have pity on me! For I have likewise sorrows which are evil and these are in conflict with joys that are good, and I know not on which side stands the victory. Woe is me, Lord have mercy upon me! Woe is me! See, I do not hide my wounds: You are the physician, I the sick man; You are merciful, I need mercy. Is not the life of man on earth a trial? Who would choose trouble and difficulty? You command us to endure them, not to love them. No one loves what he endures, though he may love to endure. For though he rejoices at his endurance, yet he would rather that there were nothing to endure. In adversity I desire prosperity, in prosperity I fear adversity. Yet what middle place is there between the two, where man’s life may be other than trial? There is woe and woe again in the prosperity of this world, woe from the fear of adversity, woe from the corruption of joy! There is woe in the adversity of this world, and a second woe and a third, from the longing for prosperity, and because adversity itself is hard, and for fear that endurance may break! Is not man’s life trial without intermission?
All my hope is nothing, save in Your great mercy. Grant what You command, and command what You will … Too little does any man love You, who loves some other thing together with You, loving it not on account of You, O Love, who are ever burning and never extinguished! O Charity, my God, enkindle me! You command continence: grant what You command and command what You will.7