We begin to read from St. Matthew’s Gospel today with the very familiar passage that is commonly called “The Sermon on the Mount.” The various movies that tell the story of Jesus usually portray this scene with Jesus standing on top of a hill speaking to a vast throng of people. That’s why I want to ask you to listen carefully to the first few verses of the passage again.
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. . .
Jesus is not standing. He is not speaking to the crowd. He is teaching the disciples, to those who have left all to follow Jesus. These are important details if we hope to come to an accurate understanding of Jesus’ purpose in these words.
Once again, let me remind you that the culture in which Jesus lived is driven by the pursuit of honor and the avoidance of shame. The people of Jesus’ time believed that poverty, illness, suffering of any kind, and disastrous situations were shameful. They believed that God rewarded good people and punished bad people. Jesus is running counter to that expectation in the Beatitudes.
The last or ninth beatitude underscores the notion of reversal a familiar theme in all the Gospels. Thus, at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, he is preparing his disciples for the catastrophic events of the passion and crucifixion. It is not the rich and powerful who will enjoy God’s blessings. Those who accept the cross and carry it joyfully are the truly blessed, the truly happy.
There are no fewer than eighty beatitudes sprinkled throughout Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. While the beatitudes with which St. Matthew opens “The Sermon on the Mount” are some of the most important of them, perhaps the most important beatitude is found in the Gospel of St. Luke: "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” Jesus tells us those who hear and observe the word of God are his mother, his brothers, and his sisters. Could there be any higher honor than that?
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator