Year A: Fourth Sunday Ordinary Time
The Sermon on the Mount
When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: “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, for 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.
“Let the proud then long for the kingdoms of the earth; the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the humble.” St. Augustine
- Which of the Beatitudes do you find most challenging to embrace and act on? Explain why.
- How does being “poor in spirit,” affect your relationship with Christ and with others?
- If you were to live the Beatitudes how would you have to change your life? 4.Which of the beatitudes resonates with you as one of your spiritual gifts and how do you experience that grace in your life?
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
In today’s Gospel Jesus is promulgating a new law, and, like Moses (see Exod 19- 20), Jesus is doing so from a mountaintop: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them…” Matthew places Jesus on the mountain for a theological, not a historical reason. He is again teaching that Jesus is the new Moses with authority from God to promulgate the new law. We can tell that this detail of placing Jesus on the mountain is a conscious choice of Matthew by comparing Matthew’s account to Luke’s. In Luke, when Jesus teaches the Beatitudes (the statements that are worded, “Blessed are…”) to his disciples and a large crowd, he is not on the mountain, but on
flat ground (Luke 6:17).
We will be able to see another particular emphasis in Matthew’s Gospel if we compare the ways in which Matthew and Luke word the Beatitudes. In Luke, Jesus is pictured as speaking directly to those who have been marginalized by society and are disenfranchised.
Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. (Luke 6:20b-21a)
In Matthew’s Gospel there is a subtle difference in the wording. Jesus says:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Jesus is speaking not to, but about, those who are poor “in spirit, that is, those who may own material wealth, but do not cling to it. Jesus is speaking not to those who are hungry “now,” that is, those who lack food, but about those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Matthew has broadened the group who is being called “blessed.”
Scripture scholars suggest that Matthew’s wording reflects the effect of the passage of time on the way the early church passed on Jesus’ preaching. Jesus may well have addressed the poor and hungry directly and called them “blessed,” a complete reversal of understanding for those who thought material wealth was a sign of God’s blessing and suffering a sign of God’s displeasure, a punishment for sin. Luke retained that wording and that message. Matthew, on the other hand, broadened the wording to include later disciples of Jesus who were not materially poor or hungry but who were sincerely trying to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy… Blessed are the
peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
In these Beatitudes Jesus calls “blessed” those who may be in a position of power: those who have an opportunity to be merciful to others, and those who can work for peace. Notice that the Beatitude does not say, “Blessed are the merciful, for God will show them mercy,” but “they will be shown mercy.” It is not just God, but all disciples of Jesus who are called to make the promise of the Beatitudes a reality. Those in Jesus’ audience are not just to receive comfort when they mourn and food when they are hungry; they are also to be the source of these blessings. They are to comfort those who mourn and feed the hungry themselves.
One final comment on the Beatitudes: Remember, we noted that the core of Jesus’ preaching is about the imminent in-breaking of the kingdom of God. Matthew’s Beatitudes reflect the “already but not yet” aspect of the kingdom by having Jesus sometimes use the present tense and sometimes use the future tense in describing the reward that the “blessed” will receive. When Jesus calls “blessed” those who are persecuted he first says, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and then says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” When Jesus calls the poor in spirit blessed he says, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In the other Beatitudes, the future tense is used: “for they will be comforted… they will see God “Once more we see that the coming of the kingdom is both a present and a future event. Jesus’ disciples, including us, can receive the gift of the kingdom and participate in its coming by living in conformity to the new law that Jesus promulgated when he preached the Beatitudes.
The Inarguable Assignment
More and more as I shuffle through this vale of wonders I begin to see that humility is the final frontier. We spend so much of our early lives building persona and confidence and career and status that it takes a long while before we sense the wild genius of the Beatitudes—blessed are those who do not think they are cool, blessed are those who reject power, blessed are those who deflate their own arrogance and puncture their own pomposity, blessed are those who quietly try to confess their sins without calling attention to their over-confident piety, blessed are those who know they are dunder-heads but forge on cheerfully anyway. The thin Jewish Mystic, as usual, was pointing in the complete other direction than the arc of human history. Sprint away from being important, famous, powerful. The weak are strong, mercy is greater than justice, power is powerless. Believe in the unbelievable, isn’t that what He is saying? Isn’t it? Don’t try to make sense of it. Be attentive and humble and naked in spirit. Try for lean and clean though the world roars for glitter and gold. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, support the sick and frightened and lonely, as the Christos says later in this very gospel: that is the inarguable assignment, the blunt mission statement, the clear map coordinates. That is what we are here for: to bring love like a searing weapon against the dark, and to do so without fanfare and applause, without a care for sneers. Do what you know to be right, though the world calls you a fool? Yes! thank you! Yes!
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland and the author of A Shimmer of Something.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle A, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of
Paulist Press, Inc. www.paulistpress.com.