Father Michael's   Reflection

January 29, 2023


      For the next four Sundays the Gospel reading is from the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, which comprises the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, the first and longest of the five discourses in Matthew. 

Today’s reading contains the Beatitudes. Lists of blessings, or beatitudes, were a common literary device to praise those who found happiness through accomplishment, social prominence, or good fortune. Beatitudes are found in both the Old and New Testaments, where the word “blessed” is used in the sense of being in favor with God. 

But the blessings of Matthew 5 are a reversal of expectations, for faithful devotion to doing God’s will is often the exact opposite of what the world considers as being favored.  Jesus’ Beatitudes are eschatological in nature, referring to a future reward to provide consolation for the oppressed through God’s vindication. Blessedness is a gift from God; and the promise of the Kingdom of heaven is what makes these blessings possible. However, the Beatitudes also reflect the present reality of those who already embody what the blessing describes. The Gospel of Luke also includes Beatitudes (6:20-26) consisting of four blessings, along with contrasting woes not included in Matthew. 

First Jesus calls for blessings on the “poor in spirit”. Although the Beatitudes reflect the Old Testament tradition of God’s special care for the poor this phrase refers not so much to economic deprivation. Rather it teaches a deeper acknowledgment of spiritual dependency before God and reception of the gift of God’s Kingdom.

The next blessing is for those who mourn. This goes beyond consolation for the loss of a loved one to a wider grief over the wrongs and sufferings of the world. The third blessing is for the meek, who “will inherit the earth”.  The word meek implies humility but not passivity. Indeed, the meek have the witness of Jesus, who puts full trust in God. 

While the version of the Beatitudes in Luke claims a blessing on those who are hungry now, Matthew speaks of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. This refers to a desire to see God’s will and justice on earth, along with vindication for those who suffer.  The fifth blessing is for the merciful. Mercy is an attribute of God that is freely extended to all. To have mercy is to show loving kindness and forgiveness, the limits of which are inexhaustible. Thus, those who receive this mercy and forgiveness are called to do likewise. 

Next comes the “pure in heart”, reflecting the Jewish ethical tradition of integrity, moral uprightness, and wholehearted devotion to God. These believers will see God not only in the age to come, but in their lives now. A seventh blessing is pronounced for the peacemakers who seek to bring about reconciliation, especially in the sense of loving one’s neighbor. Those who work to heal the brokenness around them will be called “children of God,” since peace is the nature of God’s work in the world. 

The final words pronounce God’s favor on those who suffer persecution for their loyalty to God. They are compared to the former prophets who were reviled and persecuted as well. Thus, they can “rejoice and be glad”, for there is eternal reward for them in heaven.  

Although Beatitude values for right living reflect the very heart of God and are grounded in the Old Testament tradition, it is in the Beatitudes of Jesus, as composed by Matthew, that we are given a clear window into how life is to be, and can be, lived. Therefore, we can be sure that the beatitudes are Matthew’s way of telling us about the character of the spirituality of Jesus.