Matthew has a careful pattern in his gospel. Last Sunday, we heard in the fourth chapter of Matthew that Jesus has gathered disciples and gone throughout Galilee teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing the sick.
The so-called Sermon on the Mount, is the longest piece of teaching from Jesus recorded in the New Testament, and the first recorded teaching in Matthew’s gospel. The Sermon on the Mount is not one single sermon which Jesus preached on one definite situation; it is the summary of his consistent teaching to his disciples. It has been suggested that, after Jesus definitely chose the Twelve, he may have taken them away into a quiet place for a week or even a longer period of time, and that, during that space, he taught them all the time, and the Sermon on the Mount is the distillation of that teaching.
Matthew sets the scene for us: Jesus sees the crowds that have gathered, then goes up the mountain, where he sits down and begins to teach his disciples. Jesus began to teach when he had sat down. When a Jewish Rabbi was teaching officially he sat to teach. We still speak of a professor’s chair; the Pope still speaks ex cathedra, from his seat. Often a Rabbi gave instruction when he was standing or strolling about; but his really official teaching was done when he had taken his seat. So, then, the very intimation that Jesus sat down to teach his disciples is the indication that this teaching is central and official. The subject is how to live an ethical life, a life worthy of the household of God. What is the nature of God’s justice, kindness, and humility? What is the nature of God’s kingdom? What constitutes a blameless, right, and truthful character, for the individual and the community?
So, Jesus begins:
To be poor in spirit is to be open and empty before God. Let us approach God’s kingdom humbly, with our hands, hearts and minds open, free of clutter, of old habits and anxieties. Humble and receptive, available for God to do a new thing. Jesus re-orders our reality, re-defines the nature of abundance to mean a new life in God. Mourning is another kind of emptying, an assumption of appropriate responsibility for the brokenness around us. Then Jesus addresses the qualities of letting go of control into the hands of God. Another kind of emptying. So, the first step to kingdom living is emptying, and the next is transforming that clean emptiness to the blessing of a profound relationship with God. Poverty of spirit, mourning, gentleness, humility: these are characteristics of the contemplative life, these are qualities of a life of prayer.
However, Righteousness and justice lie at the heart of an active life in the kingdom of God. Having taught his faithful disciples how to be humble servants of God, Jesus begins to teach them to be leaders: peacemakers who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Jesus puts truth and justice issues on the table.
Justice must be accompanied by mercy and purity of heart. One who is pure of heart is single-minded in the quest for justice and truth, sincere, transparent and without guile before God. One who is pure of heart cultivates habits of integrity: unity among heart, word, and deed.
The peacemaker values truth and reconciliation: peace with God, reconciliation in the community of faith, love for all neighbours, near and far. These are qualities of life in community.
Finally, A great challenge to the qualities of blessedness – openness, gentleness, humility, purity of heart, justice, and mercy – occurs when we are persecuted for that very peacemaking to which we have been led by our relationship with God and our neighbours. Or perhaps we want to aid and protect those who are being persecuted. There is no peace without justice. Peacemakers must affirm hope in the midst of difficulty, despair, suffering.
The shape of the Beatitudes is brilliant in presenting an ethic of character based on the interplay between being and doing.
In the Beatitudes, we journey with the disciples of Jesus from faith through simplicity, service, and reconciliation to hope. As followers of Jesus, we are to be prophets, in our prayers and in our lives, of the good news of the kingdom of God.
We are blessed by God’s grace to live the abundant life, in relationship with God and our neighbours. We are called to be Peacemakers, living the Beatitudes in our daily work, in our communities and organizations. Do Justice. Love Kindness. Walk Humbly with your God. Hunger and thirst for Righteousness. Make peace with purity of heart. Expect nothing less than the kingdom of God, and persevere in the face of opposition.
St. Augustine in his sermon 87.2 on the vineyard workers and the owner of the vineyard once stated that God “worships” you.
God worships us because he believes in us. Augustine explained this by saying that God cultivates the good in you the way a farmer cultivates his field. It means that God believes in us.
And then,when we believe in God we believe not only in God but also in the inner goodness of that person that God created each of us to be.