(Is.8:23-9.3; 1Cor.1:1-13,17; Mt.4:12-23)
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has often been described as the heart of the Gospels, and central to this sermon are the Beatitudes.
Pope St John Paul II once called the Beatitudes the Magna Carta of Christianity.[iii] What he meant is that these eight blessings are a pivotal guide for how we might live our best lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Early in the Old Testament, in the Book of Exodus, Moses climbs Mt Sinai and receives the Ten Commandments from God. These Ten Commandments are ten simple, but profoundly important, rules for how to live a safe and moral life that will both please God and help us all live in community.
In a similar way, early in the New Testament, Jesus, as ‘the new Moses’, climbs another mountain, this one overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and he introduces a new law which we call the Beatitudes. This new law isn’t meant to replace the Law of Moses. Its purpose is to perfect them and help us understand them better. As Jesus says, ‘I’ve come not to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them’ (Mt.5:17)
The essential purpose of the Ten Commandments is to teach us right from wrong, and to show us how to respect God and each other. The purpose of the Beatitudes, however, is to help us take the next step, by doing everything in love.
And living a life of love is living the life of God.
The word beatitude means ‘blessedness,’ and these eight blessings tell us what we need to do, to truly be happy. They are also a challenge, because each is exactly the opposite of what our society today expects us to believe and do.
Our world, for example, says that you’ll be happy when you chase after money. But Jesus says ‘happy are the poor in spirit.’ In other words, those who are truly blessed are those who put God before anything else; and who have the humility to admit that they can’t do anything without God’s grace, because he is ultimately in control.
Our world also says you’ll be happy when you are tough, ruthless and feared, just like in the movies. But Jesus says blessed are the kind and gentle, who refuse to get ahead by hurting others, for gentleness is a form of strength.
Our world says you’ll be happy when you really know how to party. But Jesus says, blessed are those who mourn; who recognise the emptiness of cheap thrills, and who understand that you can’t avoid pain and sacrifice when you focus on what really counts in life.
Our world says happy are those who have a taste for power, status and fame. But Jesus says happy are those who hunger and thirst for justice, who understand the importance of values and standards, and always doing the right thing.
Our world says you’ll be happy if you’re intolerant and refuse to accept or forgive the mistakes of others. But Jesus says happy are the merciful, who try to understand why people do what they do, and then give them another chance, for God’s mercy will shine on them.
Our world also says you’ll be happy if you have the right look, and it really doesn’t matter what you’re hiding underneath, because it’s appearances that count. But Jesus says happy are those who have a good, clean heart, because all our thoughts, words and actions come from there.
Our world says you’ll be happy if you trample all over others, because then you’ll get what you want. But Jesus says happy are the peacemakers; those who welcome the stranger, who pursue justice and help to spread understanding, for they shall be true sons and daughters of God.
And finally, our world says blessed are those who lie, cheat and steal, because they’ll have the last laugh. But Jesus says happy are those who take a stand for what is right, especially in the face of persecution and abuse, for they’ll be honoured on earth and rewarded in heaven.
In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI called the Beatitudes ‘Jesus’ self-portrait’, for he is ‘the true poor in spirit, the one afflicted, the meek one, the one hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemaker. He is the one persecuted for the sake of justice.’ [iv]
The Beatitudes may be challenging, but remember this: they are an excellent guide to a good relationship with God and our neighbours.
And they are our pathway to heaven.
[i] Photo: Church of the Beatitudes, Mount of Beatitudes, Galilee.