Joseph Matar Lebanon
1“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’”.
In his “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus delivered to the Disciples what are known as “the Beatitudes.” Eight verses with incredible promises for those who live according to them. These eight verses are foundational in the teaching of Jesus on what it means to be a Christian.
Within this literary context, the Beatitudes should be read as the manifesto of Jesus for transformation in the Community He has just inaugurated. They reveal what the new Community will look like. The Beatitudes address those who experience various kinds of oppression as well as those who have been targeted because of their pursuit of righteousness. They promise blessings to each of these oppressed groups.
As Matthew frames the event, Jesus delivers this teaching on a mountain, which is probably meant to make us think of Moses on Mount Sinai, with all the connotations of the “giving of the law” and the “making of the covenant” so that it frames Jesus in that light and gives this Sermon on the Mount that same degree of seriousness and community-forming authority.
It must be noted that the Beatitudes do not glorify situations of suffering but announce reversal of fortunes for the oppressed.
After announcing the new Kingdom and recruiting Disciples, Jesus has been healing every disease, sickness and demon-possession among the people and has, consequently, gained immense popularity. The Beatitudes that come immediately after these accounts reveal how the afflicted and the oppressed will be blessed, just as others in similar situations have been blessed thus far. While the promise of deliverance and reversal of fortunes spelled out in the Beatitudes point to the future, they are built on what Jesus has already accomplished. It is a promise built upon his successful track record.
In our Western context, the Beatitudes could be considered a deeply subversive text as the word “blessed” is often associated with and hijacked by the wealthy, the healthy and the most powerful. Jesus clarifies that it is precisely the poor, the sick and the meek that are entitled to the blessings of the new Kingdom.
But how will the afflicted and the oppressed be blessed? How will their deliverance come about? Verse 4 offers an insight. The most common translation of Verse 4—"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”, suggests that those who mourn will receive advocacy, not just comfort and consolation. Comfort and consolation are helpful and even essential, but not nearly sufficient. Merely comforting individuals and communities who are mourning due to hunger, violence and injustice might address the symptoms of their situation but does little to change the roots of their suffering. As followers of Jesus, we are called to advocate on behalf of the oppressed and do everything in our capacity to reverse their current situation.
When we see people weeping because of hunger, poverty or any dire situation in life, our response cannot be limited to thoughts and prayers. As important as thoughts and prayers are, they must be followed by concrete actions.
The human agency takes on additional significance when one reads the Beatitudes within the literary context of the Disciples having just been invited to help advance the new Kingdom and its manifesto. Such an emphasis on the human agency suggests that, when we see oppressed people, the question need not, and should not, be: ‘Where is God when people are mourning, hungry, being brutally treated and denied mercy?’ Instead, the question should be: ‘Where is God’s Community and what is it doing to reverse the situation?’
The Beatitudes offer a promise of liberation to those at the margins of our society. They also invite and require anyone and everyone with privilege and power to participate in the process of making the promised liberation a reality and they also offer us a glimpse at the source of Jesus’ happiness.
Bismarck, as a Lutheran, was right to remark: ‘You cannot govern with the Sermon on the Mount’. It is not legislation, but an interior vision, fired by a hunger for justice in this world, and confidence in a future when the mourners will be comforted, the poor will be enriched, and the meek will inherit the earth.
In the Bible, poverty is an evil to be corrected; wealth is not an evil but a necessity for the well-being of the Kingdom. However, the love of riches can lead to neglect of God and of the poor. The Christian Community has always tried to make the care of the poor its priority, as it is God’s priority. Is it mine?
Each of the ‘blesseds’ is a statement about something important in the Christian life. They are an ideal of how to live and how to find God close to us. You could look over your life and see if they fit, make sense, if they have brought a certain wholeness to life when you were humble, merciful, peace-maker, justice-worker, mocked for your beliefs, or gentle. God is close to us when we are like that. We can ask for the grace to live by this vision of life, which was at the root of how Jesus lived.
Attitude is Everything
A thought: If you are employing someone then yes, of course, qualifications are important as is experience; but if that person has a bad attitude, then they are not going to get the job. I wonder how many people have lost out on their dream job to someone who was less qualified for the role because the other person had a better attitude. I can think of someone who was in this position sadly.
The wrong attitude from someone else can bring out the worst in us – we can feel irritated and annoyed, and with that comes consequences, negative consequences. Conversely, someone with the right attitude brings out the best in us – patience, gratitude, generosity, love.
Jesus came to this earth to bring about the Kingdom of God. How will that become a reality? It will become a reality if it is populated with people who have the right attitudes – those of mercy, justice, and peace. These are the Beatitudes that Jesus encourages his followers to develop. It is not an overstatement to say that He is the master of the human psyche. He knows what will lead to human flourishing not only on an individual basis but also in society as a whole.
It is hard to imagine, of course, but, if every member of a particular nation were to live in accordance with the Beatitudes there would be no more human misery, no more loneliness, no crime, no abuse. What a wonderful world that would be!!! That is the Kingdom of God, Paradise – where we hope to be heading, but only if we have the right attitude.
Lord, make me poor in spirit, so I can receive the kingdom of heaven.
Lord, when I mourn, help me find comfort.
Lord, make me meek, so that I may inherit the land.
Lord, help me to hunger and thirst for righteousness,
so I may be satisfied.
Lord, make me merciful, so I may obtain your mercy.
Lord, make me pure of heart, so I may see you.
Lord, help me to make peace, so I may be called your child.
Lord, when I am persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
show me your kingdom.
Am I poor in spirit? Do I depend on God, acknowledge that God is the one with the loving power? Or is it material goods or lack of them that occupy my life?
Am I meek? Do I show a kindness and gentleness to people I meet? Do I respect the dignity of others? Or can I be manipulative or arrogant, proud or haughty?
Do I hunger and thirst for what is right? Do I dedicate my energies to rectify the injustices I see around me? Do I fight for the homeless, refugees, victims of human trafficking, those who live in poverty, those who do not receive a fair wage? Or do I fail to see the suffering and misery of those around me?
Am I merciful? Do I show a real compassion when I see others in pain? Or am I judgemental or prejudice thinking that people deserve the predicament they are in?
Am I pure in heart? Do I see things with an unprejudiced eye or can I be selfish and narrow-minded?
Am I a peacemaker? Do I try and reconcile and bring people together when I notice rifts in the family and community? Or do I ignore such hostilities because I don’t want to get involved? Do I feel being a peacemaker is my responsibility or do I think that trying to maintain good relationships is not my duty?