9 Beatitudes. Blessings. Jesus on a mountain proclaiming all these blessings on the crowd. Beatitude. Nice enough. Beginning of the most famous sermon of all time. On the surface it all seems simple enough – until you start to go below the surface. Who is being blessed? What does it mean?
A question to keep asking is → who is Jesus saying these things to and what is the occasion?
If we only read these nine Beatitudes as the beginning of the “Sermon on the Mount”, we can so easily reduce it to an Ethics summary. That is so far removed from what Matthew offers to us. He is only trying to flesh out the absolutely core message of Jesus, namely the kingdom. Mt 4:17 tells us what this is: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
This is the announcement. Jesus walks by the lake and he calls a series of fisherman – two sets of two brothers. They leave and follow. Who is being addressed? Matthew 4:24 tells us who it is that makes up this crowd. It is the poor / sick / lame – those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics and paralytics. Roman society brought security, roads, water etc. But through heavy taxation, it left most people in abject poverty. These losers flock to Jesus. They are all in for him.
Knowing who Jesus is talking to makes such a difference to a proper understanding of why people who are poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted and reviled are blessed. This is all part of his kingdom announcement, which will be repeated in various forms some 50 times across this gospel.
All Saints Day. 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12.