The Be-atitudes are again before us today. In teaching these eight pronouncements (Matthew’s Gospel has eight while Luke has but four cf. 6:20-26), Jesus is demonstrating the attitude that ought to mark the Christian’s way of approaching life. They are a collection, if you will, of Jesus encapsulating the Law and clarifying the essence of the Old Covenant subsumed in the New. Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, inaugurating the New Covenant which will continue through His death and resurrection.
The Bible say that Jesus, ‘went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them…’ (Matt 5:1-2), and with them, the multitudes, face to face. Going up and a ‘mountain’ is significant in and of itself. Immediately we are reminded of Moses climbing up Mount Sinai in the Old Testament to receive the Law from God Himself. Mountains were often places of divine action, as men sought to get closer to God and where God would reveal Himself intimately to man (Gen 22:2; Ex 3:1; 19:2). St Matthew purposely here chooses to present Jesus as Master speaking with the authority from God. St Augustine likened the mountain here to the higher precepts of righteousness as compared to lesser laws.
The Sermon on the Mount, of which the Beatitudes forms an initial section, is a homily really by Jesus in which he introduces the kind of life that those who seek to be a part of God’s kingdom must lead. It can be read in total in Matthew chapters 5-7.
Each of the eight Beatitudes begins with the word ‘blessed’, hence ‘beatitude’ from the Latin word ‘beatus’ meaning ‘blessed’, ‘happy’ or ‘fortunate’; a state of well-being in relationship to God. So, blessed, happy or fortunate are you are, if you… one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight… Or, put another way, if you are a part of the Kingdom of God, then,
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, or theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven…’
Herein lies the joy and the hope of true discipleship: The rewards and promises found in Christ Jesus our Lord that await us as people of God. And never miss the point: Here, as in many other places in Scripture, the context is heavenly or spiritual, not material or earthly prosperity. The latter is a lie of the Devil and one that has sadly invaded the Western Church in many parts and places in our modern times. You only need to flip on the telly, to find this erroneous teaching being propagated by men and women in flashy suits, with blinking jewellery, driving flashing cars, living in mansions and managing mega-churches, while encouraging the undiscerning faithful to sow passionately, dollar in faith, to the end of material and earthly blessings.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church however states:
The beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement – however beneficial it may be – such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love’ (CCC # 1723).
In fact, these simple teachings of Jesus turn all our worldly value systems upside down. So while we are day after day bombarded by worldly values and are egged on to seek and pursue earthly happiness in the pleasures and temporal power given by money and status and promiscuous sex, Jesus, in the Gospel, demands of us values that are fundamentally different.
Seeking happiness is indeed a natural desire that originates in and comes from God Himself. Yet the world, having long forgotten Him, distorts those desires and channels them into the temporary highs, the so-called quick fixes, through the vain lie that in such, happiness will be found. Sex, alcohol, the promotion, food, control over others, drugs, money, the rush of buying a new car and racing up and down the N2, travelling the world, video game, shopping, gambling, winning the race, all these things will never satisfy; rather, they will let you down time and time again, just as fast as they gave you that thrilling sense of euphoria. While we tend to benignly call them addictions, sinful habits is what they really are. And they serve to enslave us. Jesus alone has the ability to satisfy.
So the challenge drawn here today is for us to choose: To live either as a Christian, following and trusting in Jesus and His wise counsel, or to live by the standards of the world. The two are not compatible. You are a fool and to be pitied above all, if you thing that you can be a Christian and at the same time enjoy the wicked and fallen ways and attitudes this lost world. Its oil and water beloved. Unable to coexist.
So take a look at your life. You and I know by introspection, that which is wrong with us, that which we should not do, that which needs to be cut out… Sin. Conscience, convictions of the Spirit and the Word, are what guide us and point these things out. So change. Deal with it. Break with sin. Stop.
The choice to live out the Gospel is what will change our lives entirely: How to act; how to speak; how to behave; what to dress; what is appropriate and what is not; right and wrong. How to deal with others; how to deal with our money; how to deal with conflict; how to live a life that pleases Jesus. It’s then, and only then, that one will find the mystery that is true blessedness.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.