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11.01.2020 Solemnity of All Saints

"The Sermon on the Mount"

By Carl Bloch

(1834 – 1890)


Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890), celebrated Danish painter, was born on 23rd May, 1834, in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was the son of merchant Joergen Peter Bloch and Ida Emilie Ulrikke Henriette Weitzmann Bloch.


Bloch's parents wanted their son to enter a respectable profession - an officer in the Navy. This, however, was not what Carl wanted. His only interest was drawing and painting, and he was consumed by the idea of becoming an artist.


He traveled to Italy, where he saw the artists of the Renaissance, and also to the Netherlands and was deeply influenced by Rembrandt.


Carl Bloch is recognized by many as the greatest artist ever to interpret the life of Christ.


Lectio

Matthew 5:1-12

1 “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.

His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said:

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you

and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,

for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’”.


Meditatio

The Context

We are at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. Until this point, Matthew has followed faithfully the structure of the Gospel of Mark, but now he is going to show his originality by creating a section about the authority of Jesus and his power to perform miracles.

Verses 1-2 seem very simple, however they show more than meets the eye.

Who are Jesus’ listeners?

The crowd”: they are the multitudes who come from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the Region of Trans-Jordania. They are all people who want to follow Jesus. It is important to note this because Jesus is going to demand from them a full commitment to a project of life that was unheard of.

On other occasions Jesus climbs into a boat to talk to people on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, but here Jesus climbs the mountain to deliver a discourse that will be compared to the giving of the Law to Moses when he climbed Mount Horeb to receive it from God himself.

However, unlike Moses who remained standing, Jesus sits down. If this parallels the scene of Sinai, Jesus was expected to fall prostrate to the ground and cover his face. However, here Jesus is the Master and He sits. The people do not remain at a distance[1], they are his Disciples (the first time Matthew uses the term) and they came close to him. We are not witnessing a fearful scene with fire and thunder. Those who approach Jesus do not need to fear for their lives, unlike those Israelites who did not dare approach the mountain. The Disciples can climb to where Jesus is without even being invited.

Finally, Jesus does not need to wait until God speaks to him. He simply sits down and speaks with supreme authority that his audience will acclaim at the end of the discourse[2].

The beginning of the discourse

The beginning of the Sermon is rather strange. It does not begin with an exhortation to conversion. It is not intimidating. It does not speak of punishment. It begins rather with a blessing upon very exceptional groups of people: those ready to listen to his message and put it into practice.

The Beatitudes in the Old Testament

We find mention of beatitudes in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms and in the Wisdom Literature.

1. They stress religious and moral values: trust in God, fear of God, love for the poor[3].

2. They refer to situations which are difficult to accept (Job 4:17-20). When this happens, a justification for the blessing is provided.

3. At times they describe desirable and pleasant situations.

4. Other times they express strong human emotions (even if they sound very awkward to our modern ears[4]).

Compared to the beatitudes in the Old Testament, the Beatitudes in Matthew fall into the first two categories: religious and moral values or situations difficult to accept. That is why they are qualified by a reason that justifies them. The message is clear: Jesus proclaims those who many would consider to be “accursed” to be blessed.

Hints to understand the Beatitudes

1. The reward in the first and last Beatitudes, “the Kingdom of God”, refers to this life and not to the next: these persons are happy because they already belong to the Christian Community.

2. They are not to be considered eight obstacles to be overcome, but eight doors with which to enter the Palace of the King: Which Beatitude is the one that best describes you at this moment in your life?[5] Which is the door that opens the ‘treasures’ of God for you?

Description of the Beatitudes

As we have said, the Beatitudes should be likened to eight doors. They speak about the persons who can accept the message of Jesus and enter the Christian Community.

The Beatitudes are not a code of moral behaviour that states how to be a good Christian. The Beatitudes describe situations and attitudes in life that allow us to understand the truths and the values of the Gospel. They move one’s heart to follow Jesus.

The Beatitudes are not an invitation to suffer. They do not say: “suffer in order the enter the Kingdom of God”. They affirm that “if you suffer, do not think that your suffering is pointless, because suffering helps you to understand the Gospel and to follow Jesus”.

They do not say: “endeavour to be robbed so that you may respond in a non-violent manner”. They say: “if you are able to respond to the violence that you suffer with mercy, do not think that you are simple-minded: be happy because you are acting as Jesus did”.

They do not say: “endeavour to be persecuted in order to show your faithfulness to God”. They say: “if you are persecuted for being faithful to God, you are truly blessed, because you are already in the Kingdom of God”.

Since they are the set of values that Jesus holds important, the Beatitudes become a way of life we should pursue.

We cannot remain indifferent after hearing them. We need to strive to apply them as we meet similar circumstances in life.

The Poor in Spirit

The poor in spirit are the humble and simple of heart. Jesus himself is the best example to describe who they are.

Matthew introduces Jesus as a carpenter, a trade that ranks among the lowest in his society, below that of a farmer, and only marginally more important than the outcast.

He chose to live as an itinerant preacher, dependent on charity and on those who followed him and supported his ministry.

Jesus is poor and He is also humble because He does not desire to accumulate wealth. For him riches can become an obstacle to enter the Kingdom of God.

If we want to understand the radical and most profound meaning of what ‘Poverty in Spirit’ is, we should look at the Eucharist and contemplate the mystery of the presence of God in a piece of bread.


Oratio

Lord Jesus, you said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Keep us from being preoccupied with wealth and worldly goods, and with trying to ever increase them at others expense.

Lord Jesus, you said, "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth."

Help us not to be uncaring with one another, and to eliminate the discord and conflict 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 due to 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 Word in our lives and in the society in which we live.

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 pure of heart, for they shall see God."

Free us from our harmful desires and fix our eyes on You. Lord Jesus, you said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God."

Help 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 neighbour. Amen


Contemplatio

Consider the Beatitudes as a gift from Jesus. Jesus delivered them upon the mountain facing the Sea of Galilee to give us, his followers, not a masterpiece of literature, but a mirror that reflects the Cross of Calvary when we are overwhelmed by suffering and the lack of understanding.

Contemplating the Beatitudes we acquire a heart able to see them embodied in the poor, in the non-violent, in persecuted Christians, in the gentleness of the simple-hearted, in the tears of the sorrowful, in the hunger of the mistreated, in the forgiveness offered by the person who strives not to retaliate.

The Beatitudes are real. We discover them every time we are concerned for our neighbour rather than ourselves.

Rise up from your sleep[6], the Kingdom of God is present and among us. The Kingdom of God is evolving and has a face: the countenance of the poor, the eyes of the wo/man asking for your kindness, like Lazarus looking for the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.

The “world” might not understand this, but we Christians are searchers of ‘pearls’: we look for the Beatitudes hidden in the silent sighs of those who are disillusioned and need a reason to live: Blessed are you who have lost the meaning of life for whatever reason, for you are worth our attention, you deserve to know your Saviour!


[1] Exodus 19: 16-17: “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain.” [2] Matthew 7: 28-29: “Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” [3] Psalm 41:4: “As for me, I said, ‘O Lord, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.’” Psalm 145:5: “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.” Sirach. 31:8: “Blessed is the rich person who is found blameless, and who does not go after gold.” [4] Psalm 137:8-9: “O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!.” [5] The Church built on the Mount of the Beatitudes, close to the Sea of Galilee where Jesus delivered his Sermon, is an octagonal shrine with eight windows, one in each wall. [6] Proverbs 6:9: “How long will you lie there, O lazybones? When will you rise from your sleep?”

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