Matthew 5: 1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We know this passage as “The Beatitudes” – from the Latin – Beatus – meaning blessed.
Matthew shapes his gospel around five sections of teaching and this is the first and longest which runs to 3 chapters – what we call the Sermon on the Mount. A Jewish reader would hear echoes of Moses giving the 10 Commandments and the Law on Mount Sinai.
These bold statements are like the 10 Commandments and the subsequent teaching fills them out. The whole “Sermon” ends with a challenge – are we the wise who heed and act on the teaching or the foolish who pay no attention.
The Beatitudes are delightful, in what they affirm and what they promise, what they say about who God has special regard for; they are challenging because they are not straightforwardly “true” – when will these blessings be realised?
Many scholars feel that the final “Blessed” (when people revile you) may be an addition as the poor inspirit and the persecuted share the same affirmation – “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.
In that case we can see how the first 4 are blessings on those who struggle, though our translations rather spiritualise away the likely meaning.
Blessed are the very poor (whose spirit is damaged); blessed are those who mourn (because of the oppression and suffering); blessed are the dispossessed of the land (see Ps 37:11 – meek is probably not a good translation of what Jesus said); blessed are the hungry – hungry because justice is not done (the word means both righteousness and justice), and the phrase “will be filled” literally means will be given a feast. So the very poor will have the Kingdom, the weeping will receive comfort, the dispossessed will inherit the land and the hungry will be given a feast.
And the next four are for those of us who maybe are not in the first categories; we show mercy and we receive mercy; if our hearts are pure and set on God we will see God, if we work for peace and shalom, we will be called children of God, for that is what God desires, and if we are persecuted for this, for seeking justice, then, like the poor, we discover the Kingdom is ours.
The qualities of mercy and purity of heart (integrity), of peace-making and of accepting persecution as we pursue justice and righteousness are ones we can develop ourselves, but I want to end by reiterating that this is not a series of demands, it is an invitation to see the world differently and join in. It is for us as a church / parish to work out what this means for us. May the Spirit of Jesus be among our church, especially for those who struggle and grieve, and may the Spirit of Jesus be evident in how we live our lives, receiving blessing and sharing it.
Rev Peter Reiss