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Focus Text: 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.
Scriptural Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is perhaps the most succinct teaching in scripture about what it means to be a disciple of Christ. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus, like Moses before him, goes up on a mountaintop and delivers the words which will come to guide and characterize the community of God’s people. Like the Ten Commandments, it is easy to forget that what we think of as a list of commands or ethical teachings actually begins with a declarative statement. Before Jesus gives specific commands in his teaching on discipleship, he first announces the good news that God’s favor is bestowed upon the poor in spirit, the meek, the mourners, the merciful, those who long for justice, the purehearted, the peacemakers, and the mistreated. These sayings, most often called the Beatitudes, declare blessed now those who, because of their experience, virtues, and commitments, will fully experience the reign of God in the future.
The Beatitudes reflect the eschatological – or ultimate – nature of Jesus’ mission and proclaim the effects of the establishment of God’s rule. They list eschatological reversals for the unfortunate and eschatological rewards for the virtuous. It would be a mistake, however, to see the beatitudes as having only future significance. In fact, the first (5:3) and last (5:10) of the sayings are in the present tense. By bookending these future promises with the present tense, Matthew emphasizes the imminence of the Kingdom. Moreover, while these sayings are not commands, there is a strong imperative force contained within their indicative pronouncements. God’s good future is arriving in the present, in the person and work of Jesus, and his disciples are called, therefore, to practice here and now the habits of life which will find their goal and fulfillment in that future.
This tension between the future and the present is seen in the structure of each beatitude. The first half of each beatitude depicts the present; the second half looks forward to the future—a portrait and a promise. The portraits describe those who are blessed now that the Kingdom is arriving: poor, mournful, meek, thirsty, merciful, persecuted. These are also portraits of Jesus and his cross. The promises which follow—“they will be comforted . . . they will be filled . . . they will receive mercy . . . they will be called children of God . . . theirs is the kingdom of heaven”—are promises made possible in the resurrection of Jesus. In the Beatitudes we can see Jesus’ cross and resurrection. To be a disciple of Jesus is to live at the intersection of the cross and the resurrection, the in-between of this present age and the one to come. For Jesus, the people who are poor, mourning, meek, hungry for justice, merciful, pure, peaceful, and persecuted are the ones closest to his cross and therefore inheritors of the resurrection. Blessed are they!
There are few passages which so eloquently and succinctly speak of the nature of the Kingdom of God come in Jesus Christ. The beatitudes bring comfort to the poor, the mourners, the meek, and those who long for God’s justice. They promise reward for the merciful, the pure hearted, the peaceful, and the persecuted. They paint a portrait of the kingdom where those who are not regarded by society will be lifted up and those who are faithful will be blessed. Such a portrait calls disciples of Jesus to hunger and thirst for righteousness and to embody the teaching of Jesus which calls followers to be merciful and make peace, to be humble and present with mourners. Like the prophets, this may lead to persecution, but Jesus beckons disciples to follow him to the cross that they might receive his resurrection.
By Michael Burns, Duke Divinity School Intern
Worship Aids about The Beattitudes
Lord Jesus, You Said
Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Keep us from being preoccupied with money and worldly goods, and with trying to increase them at the expense of justice.
Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” Help us not to be ruthless with one another, and to eliminate the discord and violence that exists in the world around us.
Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Let us not be impatient under our own burdens and unconcerned about the burdens of others.
Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be filled.” Make us thirst for you, the fountain of all holiness, and actively spread your influence in our private lives and in society.
Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Grant that we may be quick to forgive and slow to condemn.
Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.” Free us from our senses and our evil desires, and fix our eyes on you.
Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Aid us to make peace in our families, in our country, and in the world.
Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for the kingdom of heaven in theirs.” Make us willing to suffer for the sake of right rather than to practice injustice; and do not let us discriminate against our neighbors and oppress and persecute them.
(Adapted from http://holycrossfamily.blogspot.com/2009/04/catholic-virtue-reflection-blessed-are_29.html)
Prayer for the Poor by Mother Theresa
Make us worthy, Lord, to serve those people throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give them peace and Joy. Amen.
Facts and Reflection about The Beattitudes
See the excellent series, “Seeing the Invisible” in the Raleigh News & Observer by Professor Gene Nichol