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. (Matthew 5:1-12 – NRSV)
Luke also has a set of beatitudes – see Luke 6:20-26.
Both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King regarded the Beatitudes as the great manifesto for non-violence.
Matthew speaks of ‘the’ mountain here and in 8:1, 14:23, 15:29 and 17:9. Was there a particular mountain that the disciples knew as ‘the’ mountain? Scholars cannot agree on this.
Some have drawn a link between Jesus and Moses in this reference to the mountain. There is a major difference: Jesus does not lay down a law to be kept, he teaches the people how to recognize the kingdom.
The English word ‘blessed’ here translates makarios (μακάριος). Some translations use the English word ‘happy’. This seems inappropriate. Being ‘blessed’ carries much more depth, subtlety and richness than being ‘happy’.
A significant question must be addressed if we are to begin to understand the Beatitudes: Are they primarily about ethical ideals or are they primarily about the transforming effects of grace? I think they are best read as teaching on the transforming effects of grace.
One scholar writes: “Amos Wilder was right on target when he wrote that Matthew 5–7 offers ‘not so much ethics of obedience as ethics of grace.’ We miss the point if we see the Sermon on the Mount as nothing other than a series of far-reaching demands. The demands are there, certainly. But the love and the mercy of God are there, too.” (L Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, W.B. Eerdmans, 1992, 92.)
When we experience God in the abyss of our lives then we know in our bones that nothing else matters. More than that, the very experience of abyss – which can be terrifying as it annihilates our ego-centre world, transforming ego from master to servant – is also an experience of God’s unending mercy and goodness.
This is life-transforming. It cuts to the very roots of our beings. It is enlightening and energising. Our self-perceptions and our perceptions of people, events and things will be forever changed. This is the basis – the only basis – for an authentic Christian morality.
Jean Vanier writes: “When I discover that I am poor, that I am confused, but that You call me by my name, that You love me, then there is the moment of transformation.” (Followers of Jesus, Gill and MacMillan, 1976, 80.) This is the transforming experience of grace.
And this experience of grace leaves us profoundly aware of our poverty before God – “Blessed are we!”
We are left to grieve and mourn the passing of the ego-centred life – “Blessed are we!”
Our inclination towards self-aggrandisement and the petty games of self-protection become deeply embarrassing – “Blessed are we!”
The desire to discover our true selves and the truth of others in God’s mercy and love becomes like a hunger – “Blessed are we!”
The inclination to judge is replaced by the felt need to be merciful – “Blessed are we!”
We are emptied of our illusions about ourselves and otherrs and our capacity to see what matters will be purified – “Blessed are we!”
We will become a peacemaker because the reasons for violence in us have gone – “Blessed are we!”
But we will also be a threat and a worry to those who are still on the surface, playing games and we will incur their opposition, even their violence – “Blessed are we!!”
“He who has a heartfelt love for God is known by him. For people grow in the love of God in the measure in which they take that love into their inmost soul. Which is why, afterwards, such people passionately long for the illumination of knowledge to the point of feeling it in their very bones, no longer aware of themselves but wholly transformed by the love of God. Such people are in this life without being in it. They still live in their own bodies but unceasingly go out to God through love by the very momentum of their soul. Henceforward, their hearts burning with the fire of love they adhere to God with a sort of irresistible desire, as if quite torn away from the love of self by the love of God.” (Diadochus of Photike – Office of Readings, Week 2 of Ordinary Time, Friday. Diadochus was a theologian, mystic, and bishop of Photike, in Epirus. He was a staunch defender of orthodox Christological doctrine. His treatises on the ascetic life have influenced Eastern Orthodox and Western spirituality. Little is known of Diadochus’ life. He seems to have been a disciple of Evagrius of Ponticus. At the Council of Chalcedon (451) and in a letter to theEastern Roman emperor Leo I in 457, he refuted the heterodox monophysite tenet of a single, divine nature in Christ by maintaining Christ’s dual (human and divine) natures. A late-5th-century chronicle, Historia persecutionis Vandalorum (1535; The Memorable and Tragical History of the Persecution in Africke) by Victor, bishop of Vita, commends Diadochus’ catholic doctrine and indicates that he was abducted by marauding Vandals and taken to Carthage, where he probably died.)