Vol. 6, No. 20
The Sermon on the Mount The Beatitudes Matthew 5:1-12
January 24, 2017
As we Daughters of Mary reflect each week on Jesus’ teachings in the Sunday Gospel readings, few, if any, challenge us more than this week’s passage on the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. Both Matthew and Luke record Jesus teaching the Beatitudes early in his ministry, shortly after His temptations in the desert and calling the apostles. Interestingly, it is labeled the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and Sermon on the Plain in Luke. Both are a radical call to the Kingdom Standard.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the Beatitudes as the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount on the meaning and way to true happiness. The Greek word, makarios, in Matthew is an adjective meaning fortunate or blessed. The term is not used as an invocation of God’s blessing but as a declaration that a person has either received a blessing from God or can expect to receive his blessing in the future. Some do promise blessings that are partly enjoyed in this life, but all of them look beyond the struggles and hardships of this life to the eternal blessedness of the life to come (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible). You will see this if you notice that “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs IS the kingdom of heaven followed by they who mourn WILL be comforted, the meek WILL inherit the land, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness WILL be satisfied, the merciful WILL be shown mercy, the clean of heart WILL see God, peacemakers WILL be called children of God.
It is also interesting to note that Jesus sat down to teach which was the teaching position of rabbis with authority. And the beatitudes were cryptic, precise and full of meaning rather than taught in narrative or parable as Jesus usually taught.
Margaret Silf in her book, Wayfaring, labels Jesus’ beatitudes as a scandalous blessing. As He frequently does, Jesus upturns all reasonable human expectations. Yet, two thousand years later, we still pray with the Beatitudes, study them, reflect on them, and, with grace, try to live them. This is such a powerful teaching that even those who were never inside a church have heard of the Sermon on the Mount.
A shocking message always gets our attention quickly. Perhaps Jesus meant to startle us into truth when he turned our cultural ideas of happiness upside down in the Sermon on the Mount. In His time, as in our world today, the common understanding of happiness and blessing includes lots of money, foreign holidays, a big house, prestigious career, awards, respect, popularity, and being well thought of. The beatitudes Jesus proclaims present a new set of ideals that focus on love, humility, and compassion rather than honor and power and riches. I remember a homily years ago asking the meaning of the word “gospel” (which is Good News), and then naming some beatitudes and some of the teachings that follow them like – love your enemies, turn the other cheek, take up your cross, die to self. We were challenged to think through that contrast of “good news” and hard teachings which do not seem like such good news – and consider the contrast of rewards: possible comfortable, good life now – and the grace of internal peace and joy in this life – and eternal joy in the next.
Our vocation as Christians is not to be first in this world, but rather to be first in the eyes of God. It could be said that the teaching of the Beatitudes is the most important instruction which Jesus gave us. In the Beatitudes Jesus tells us that what is in our heart is vitally important for our happiness. He explains God’s law written within our hearts. He teaches transformation of the inner person with love, not power, motivating us and providing peace in the midst of our trials and tribulations on this earth.
Trying to do a reflection on a Gospel replete with so much meaning and depth, consisting of such a mountain (!) of research information was about to put me under, when my friend, Lissa, reminded me of what Fr. Bobby Rimes told us a long time ago – The first beatitude of Poverty of Spirit contains all the others. Poverty of Spirit means you know your radical dependence on God. If you truly know your radical dependence, if you are completely surrendered to God, the other beatitudes and the inner transformation required to live them, falls into place in your life. One can have lots of money and be poor in spirit at the same time although it is more of a challenge. Being poor in spirit means trusting in God, not our own abilities, admitting we are sinners, that we are absolutely nothing without God, and that everything we have comes from God.
As Johannes Metz tells us in his powerful little book entitled Poverty of Spirit: “This poverty, then, is not just another virtue, one among many. It is a necessary ingredient in any authentic Christian attitude toward life. Without it there can be no Christianity and no imitation of Christ. It is no accident that ‘poverty of spirit’ is the first of the Beatitudes. What is the sorrow of those who mourn, the suffering of the persecuted, the self-forgetfulness of the merciful, or the humility of the peacemakers–what are these if not variations of spiritual poverty?…Only through poverty of spirit do we draw near to God; only through it does God draw near to us. Poverty of Spirit is the meeting point of heaven and earth, the mysterious place where God and humanity encounter each other, the point where infinite mystery meets concrete existence.”
This necessary requirement for Christianity, this total surrender to God, which keeps coming up in everything I read or turn to these days, has been the vital ingredient in our gospel readings week after week. Just last week, Pam Gacek closed her beautiful reflection with the question “Where have we not surrendered, not given in completely or died to self in our lives?” If you ponder deeply and attentively on the gospels to come this year and on the ones we have been hearing during Advent and the Christmas season, you will notice this repeated theme of surrender again and again. Total surrender – nothing less. Radical dependence on God.
Johannes Metz elaborates: “The cross is the sacrament of poverty of spirit. No one is exempted from the poverty of the cross. In giving us the Only Begotten One, God showed us what our existence is, showed us the true nature of our humanness, and showed us the proper spirit to have in becoming a human being; the spirit of poverty.” Yes, total surrender.
John the Baptist, the disciples, St. Paul, the saints, Pope Francis, people you know today right here in Mobile, live this surrender, this poverty of spirit. And as daughters of Mary, we have the perfect model of poverty of spirit in our Mother Mary. I have wondered if the young Mary would have responded so readily to the angel’s announcement if she had known all that was to come. After reflecting on the Beatitudes and Poverty of Spirit this week, I am certain the answer is YES. Mary is the embodiment of fully living poverty of spirit.
Let us ask Mary to place us with her Son that He may gently grace and guide us to recognize those places within, the people and things and ego and attitudes that we are still clutching and holding onto. We pray for the desire to totally surrender, to persist in prayer to become all we can be, to live in a spirit of poverty. Amen.
Sources: Margaret Silf Wayfaring
Johannes Metz Poverty of Spirit
frtommylane.com/homilies Catechism of the Catholic Church
loyolapress.com Ignatius Catholic Study Bible