This is the first real sermon that Matthew records. Jesus was baptized, fought the devil, began preaching and healing and recruited some followers. The formal ministry begins with the Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are those who have nice homes, healthy children, happy marriages, six months of savings…
Nope. Those are not the blessed. Those are the fortunate.
Jesus was turning the world upside down. In earth the blessed are: the kings, the priests, the upper echelon. Jesus was talking to peasants. In heaven, it is those with nothing but faith who are blessed.
As I was preparing this lesson for the kids for next week (we’re going to spend two weeks in Matthew 5, they will cover Matthew today), everything I found for kids reduced the Beatitudes to: God wants to make me happy.
How often has the Gospel been reduced to: Jesus died for my sins, so I can be happy in this life and go to heaven in the next? We even make it conditional, if we do or are these things, then God will make us happy.
As we look more closely at the Beatitudes this week, we’ll turn our attention to what Jesus was revealing about the Kingdom and what it means for it be “on earth as it is in heaven.”
I was raised with the teaching that the Beatitudes are attitudes which we should become in order to experience God’s grace. This is a prescriptive interpretation of the text.
I have since learned through study and prayer that another interpretation is that the blessings are descriptive of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is not replacing the Ten Commandments with a set of instructions but declaring that worldly privilege will not gain us entry into God’s space.
The Kingdom of God belongs to the poor. This is a teaching consistent with later teachings such as Jesus and the rich young man and the parable of rich ruler and Lazarus.
The real median household income in the US in 2017 was $61,372. * Are you rich or poor?
Money prevents us from practicing the Means of Grace. The more money we have the less we share. We rely less on God and more on our resources, so we don’t find ourselves spending as much time in prayer.
Did you know that affluence is driving down church attendance across the spectrum? * Why? Think of the last few times you weren’t in church. How much money did you spend (directly or indirectly) on the reason you didn’t attend? If your household income was $61,372 would your Sunday mornings free up?
This isn’t about guilt. On this hillside in Capernaum, Jesus wasn’t calling out rich people, he was telling the poor peasants who were gathered there that God was coming to them to free them from their suffering. They didn’t have to be rich to enter the Kingdom of God.
Luke used “poor” while Matthew said, “poor in spirit.” What does it mean to be poor in spirit? My limited research into the differences led me to think that it’s a hopelessness that is often associated with poverty. The person who believes their only hope is some kind of intervention. Someone who might be looking for a savior.
Are you in need of saving, or do you have everything you need?
I prefer Merriam Webster’s first definition of meek: enduring injury with patience and without resentment. It seems consistent with Jesus later teaching of turning the other cheek.
But it’s verse four that used bother a bit, especially with the idea of this God who is waiting around to comfort people when clearly people aren’t always comforted. In the context of Jesus’s larger teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven and the previous verses, however it makes more sense to me. When the Kingdom of Heaven fully reigns, those who mourn will be comforted.
As Christians, it’s our job to seek that kingdom and represent Christ on earth. When we comfort others, heaven spills into earth.
I don’t pretend to know the physics of it, but genuinely serving in the role of comforter is a means of grace and Holy Spirit works through us in those times. Have you ever experienced that? I have found those moments to be fleeting and the more we get into the parables, I think we’ll find that’s how they’re described.
In the Kingdom of Heaven, things will be as they always should have been.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled, because all things will be made right. Righteousness will win.
Those who are merciful will meet the God of mercy and experience mercy in its fullest.
In this world, these two people are often left wanting. They don’t see the righteousness they seek or experience the mercy they extend. Karma doesn’t always come.
Those who seek the Kingdom of God will find it, and it will be more than they ever imagined.
What does it mean to be pure of heart?
I like to think of this as the people who we would deem innocent. In my research I found a priest’s blog that says, “The Greek here is really better translated as ‘single hearted.’” *
To have an undivided heart would be a blessing! How much of our anguish is because of our divided hearts? Perhaps those whose hearts are fully and completely devoted to God’s kingdom can see it. Maybe that’s what John Wesley referred to when he spoke of Christian Perfection, a concept I have always struggled to understand.
I like what Msgr. Charles Pope had to say about the peacemakers, so here are his words:
Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God – Everyone loves peace, but only some are actually working for it. And true peace can only be based on the truth. Hence being a peacemaker is more than being a nice guy and overlooking stuff. True peacemakers announce the kingdom and bring souls to Christ. True peacemakers strive for righteousness and justice and announce its demands. How blessed are those whom God inspires with a dedication to such work. They are indeed sons of God.
(the links are to Msgr. Charles Pope’s homily on the Beatitudes.
Somewhere along the way, people got this idea that being a Christian was easy. That when we choose to follow Jesus, we will be happy, and our lives will be without hardship; we will have this great, loving church family and our worries will just go away.
The path of discipleship led to martyrdom for centuries. Horrible, painful, public death. The church was a community of courage to offer strength and support against that backdrop.
I have not read all of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship but as he has been recognized as modern-day martyr, I would surmise that his summary view of the cost of discipleship is: everything.
Maybe that’s why Jesus recruited people who didn’t have a whole lot to lose.
The text suddenly shifted to second person.
Maybe the Beatitudes were like the job qualifications to be agents of the Kingdom. The people had long assumed that the Messiah would mount an army to overthrow the Gentile Occupiers; perhaps this was Jesus’s way, very early on, of saying that the people who are going to be in His army won’t be the people that everyone assumed. The poor (in spirit), the meek, those who mourn, who seek righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers, the pure in heart and the persecuted – they will form the army.
And in this “war” there will be battle scars. It’s going to be hard and if you’re doing it right, you will be persecuted. You will be ridiculed like the prophets of old.
But rejoice! God will win, and your faithfulness will be rewarded!