- 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. (Matthew 5:1-12)
The gospel we just heard is considered the greatest sermon Jesus ever preached by most people. It contains the ‘beatitudes’ – teachings about those who will be honored in the Kingdom Of Heaven.
Jesus had been living in Capernaum, near the Sea of Galilea – in the middle of nowhere in those days. He had been walking in the countryside and as he walked, he attracted people until he was being followed by more and more people. They begged to hear him speak, so he climbed up on top of a hill so that everyone could see and hear him. . . hence the ‘Sermon on the Mount’.
He also invited his disciples to come and sit around him, so that he could teach them what they needed to know to carry on after his death
Embedded in the sermon are the basic ethical teachings of Jesus.
The word ‘beatitude‘ comes from Latin, meaning ‘blessed’. You probably noticed that each sentence started with ‘Blessed are. . . .’.
Another translation could be ‘happy’, as in
- happy are those who walk in the way of the Lord. (Psalm 119:1)
Each beatitude first identifies a group of individuals who will be ‘blessed’, then defines the reward.
The first part of each beatitude starts with the word ‘blessed are . . ‘. Jesus declares what God thinks of people with the characteristics that follow. Because God thinks well of them, they are “blessed.” God’s blessing is far broader and more important than merely being “happy.”
The second half of each beatitude reveals what the blessing is. Just as all of the eight qualities should be part of each Christian, so each should share in the eight blessings. These eight blessings give us insight into the broad privileges that come to us because we are striving to be good Christians and God is pleased.
You might have noticed that each of the ‘blessed’ are people who are marginalized, oppressed or disadvantaged. This is the first time that Jesus explicitly stated that the Kingdom of Heaven would be inherited by those who are not the rich and wealthy, but rather those who struggle to live a righteous life.
You might find it interesting to know that there is a similar list of beatitudes in the Hebrew Torah and the Islam Qur’an. This is just another example that these three great religions sprung from the same lineage. Each defines attributes of those who walk the way of righteousness.
We might ask if these blessings intended for the future or now? The answer is both. God does not expect a Christian to have to wait until Heaven to be blessed. Although we must endure heavy trials and pressures from time to time, we can still be blessed with contentment and a sense of well-being while going through these trials.
For the next few weeks, we will delving into each of the Beatitudes, and seeing how we can model our lives according to Jesus’ instructions.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH, 30 January 2011