Zephaniah 2.3; 3.12-13 In your midst I will leave a humble and lowly people
1 Corinthians 1.26-31 God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, to shame the wise.
Matthew 5.1-12a How happy are the poor in spirit
‘Then Jesus began to speak and taught them’
In the gospel today we hear the opening of Jesus’ famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ when, echoing Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, Jesus goes up a mountain and reveals himself to the disciples as the Source of divine teaching.
Moses received; Jesus Christ reveals.
It’s worth saying that the Sermon on the Mount is not a sermon in the sense of what I am doing now.
The Sermon on the Mount is divine teaching from the mouth of God, it is the renewing and fulfilling of God’s Law that was received by Moses, for those who are ready, like the disciples, to go up the mountain with Jesus and receive his teaching and to share mystically in his life.
Despite its thorough identification with Jesus Christ the Sermon on the Mount has inspired many non-Christians, Gandhi notably among them, to reflect on ethics and, for example, how world peace might be achieved.
The Sermon on the Mount is full of good ethics that are universally human, and we will hear more of that over the next two Sundays.
But back to today, because there is much more the Sermon on the Mount includes that is about faith in Jesus Christ, not just ethical teaching.
The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes, the collection of sayings that this morning were sung so beautifully as part of our gospel proclamation.
The word ‘beatitude’ comes from the Latin ‘beatus’ which means ‘blessed’ or ‘blissful’.
So each beatitude begins, ‘blessed are…’ Different people are declared ‘blessed’ through what they endure.
These blessings point to and wrap us up in what is known as the ‘beatific vision’ the vision of the blessing and holiness of God.
The Law received by Moses was to make the people holy, and the New Covenant taught by, and embodied in, Jesus Christ fulfils that call to holiness.
This goes way beyond some broad ethical principles that can be swallowed by secular culture. Ours is a culture that either makes Jesus Christ more ‘palatable’ by reducing him simply to being a charismatic teacher and compelling guru: that is not the gospel’s proclamation of who Jesus Christ is.
Remember how St Matthew begins his gospel when speaking of Jesus who will come to save us from our sins: ‘his name shall be called Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’. (Matthew 1.22,23)
So, Jesus Christ is wise, yes; because he is Wisdom itself.
He is a teacher, yes; because he is Divine Teaching itself.
He blesses, yes; because he is the Source of Blessing itself.
He forgives, yes; because he is forgiveness itself.
He heals, yes; because he is the Source of all Healing
The Beatitudes take us into what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, to share in his life, death and resurrection and what it means to be part of His Body, the Church.
Where do we find all that?
We’ve seen the parallel with Moses who ascends the mountain to receive the Law, whereas Jesus goes up the mountain to renew and fulfil the Law.
Jesus also goes up a mountain when he was transfigured and his divine glory shines out unmistakably: on that occasion he takes Peter and James and John with him and they are mystically joined by Elijah and Moses – many levels of connection there.
Jesus also goes up a smaller rise, the hill of Calvary, outside Jerusalem when he dies on the Cross for us and for our salvation, flanked not by the representatives of the Law and Prophets, Moses and Elijah, but by two criminals.
The reference to the ascent up the mountain sets a chain of connections throughout the gospel of St Matthew.
It is in that frame of mind, or perhaps better put, that frame of spirit, that we hear the Beatitudes afresh.
The Beatitudes are not a set of recommendations for the Christian believer, rather they are a description of the people Jesus has come to bless and to draw into his Body, the Church, for their salvation and the transformation of the world through the coming Kingdom.
Strip that out and all you have is a worthy, and somewhat unworldly, collection of trite sayings.
When you understand that this is divine teaching then it changes everything.
St Paul puts it so much better than me:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12.2)
Only through a mind and spirit and outlook renewed in Christ do we begin to see the blessing that comes, when:
the poor in spirit receive the kingdom of heaven;
when the meek inherit the earth;
when the grieving receive comfort;
when those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice are satisfied;
when the merciful receive mercy;
when the pure in heart see God;
when the peacemakers are named children of God;
when even the persecuted in the cause of right receive the kingdom of heaven.
That is indeed blessing, beatitude, plentiful and generous, from the loving divine heart of Jesus to those living the Kingdom of God.
The word ‘beatitude’ sounds like ‘attitude’.
So what is your ‘attitude of beatitude’: ‘what does your life look like when lived in blessing?’ What can the world look like when lived in blessing?’
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