Monday, April 23, 2018

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.   Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

 - Matthew 5:1-10

On Saturday we read that Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  Then He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."  They immediately left their nets and followed Him.  Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets.  He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.  And Jesus went about all Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.  Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them.  Great multitudes followed Him -- from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.

 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.   Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: . . .  In the Old Testament, my study bible notes, only a select few were chosen to hear God directly (see Exodus 19:3-13).  Here God Incarnate speaks to the multitudes face to face.  The mountain is a place where divine action enters human history, the place where God reveals Himself to man, a note tells us (17:1; Genesis 22:2; Exodus 3:1, 19:2; 1 Kings 18:20).  To be seated is the traditional Jewish position of teaching with authority.  There are early Christian preachers, such as St. John Chrysostom, who sat while the people stood.  Matthew writes that Jesus opened His mouth, emphasizing a kind of declarative speech here, of Jesus speaking with authority (7:29).  The disciples who hear Him are not there for discussion or debate, but rather to listen.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  To be blessed in this context refers to what my study bible calls a heavenly, spiritual exaltation, as opposed to earthly happiness or prosperity. As indicated by this first statement of Jesus, it is a state related to dwelling in the Kingdom.  In Hebrew, "poor" means both materially poor and also the faithful among God's people.  The poor in spirit are those with the heart of the poor, the same attitude of humility, and are totally dependent upon God.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."  My study bible says that those who mourn sorrow over the sufferings of this life (9:23), the sufferings of others (John 11:35), the state of the world (Luke 19:41), and their own sins (Luke 7:36-38).  All these who mourn are comforted by the power of God both in this world and in the age to come.  Holy sorrow is something that is part of repentance, conversion, and virtuous action.  My study bible adds that it is the firstfruit of infinite joy.  This is distinguished from ungodly sorrow, a sadness that leads to despair (see 2 Corinthians 7:10).  Mourning indicates loss; Jesus' declaration of comfort gives us an indication of His Gospel of the Kingdom:  a sort of exchange of one type of life for another.

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."  Meekness, my study bible notes, is an attitude of being content with both honor and dishonor.  It's an imitation of Christ, who taught, "Learn from Me, for I am gentle [meek] and lowly in heart" (11:29).  Those who are meek in this sense are God-controlled.  They have mastery over their passions, especially anger, and are not merely slaves to whatever they feel.  Meekness is described here in contrast to passive weakness; it is rather strength directed and under control.  The earth that the meek will inherit is not power or possession in this world, but rather the new earth, which is everlasting (Revelation 21:1).

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled."  Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are those who see the presence of God and God's Kingdom as the most important, most highly cherished and prized thing in life.  It is a deep desire and impulse for what is right before God, which my study bible compares to a starving person's craving for food (see 6:33).

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."   Mercy, my study bible says, is love set in motion.  It is love expressed in action.  God's mercy in taking our sufferings on Himself in order to grant us His Kingdom sets us free from captivity or slavery to the evil one, to what is outside of this Kingdom.  In view of Christ's supreme example of mercy, love in action, we are in turn to be merciful to all.  As we live the life of the Kingdom, so the Kingdom dwells in us.  See also 6:15.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."  To be "pure" in the context of Scripture is to be unmixed with anything else.  The pure in heart are those who are completely devoted to the worship and service of God and accept no compromises, my study bible says.  That is, without mixed motives or pretenses.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, the ones who achieve this sort of purity practice all virtue, have no conscious evil in themselves, and live in temperance -- a kind of regulation through spiritual discipline.  According to my study bible, few attain this level of spirituality, but everyone may strive for it.  It notes that when the soul's only desire is God, and one holds this desire, the one may truly see God everywhere. 

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."  As Christ was the source of peace, He found no sacrifice sufficient for absolute peace other than shedding His own blood, my study bible notes.   He thereby reveals Himself to us as the Reconciler, the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6; Ephesians 2:14-16).  The Holy Spirit in turn gives peace to those who imitate Christ.  Therefore, peacemakers share God's peace with those around them, and imitate Christ's sacrificial love and participate in His work.  By God's grace, peacemakers become sons of God as well.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  Children of God, my study bible says, uphold truth, refuse to compromise with the ways of the world, and give themselves to no other (6:24, 33; see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Like Jesus these will be persecuted for righteousness' sake (see John 15:18-20).  By living this way they belong to the Kingdom and are members of it; my study bible calls Christ's kingdom the crown awaiting the righteous.

Christ speaks of a blessed way of life.  To dwell in the kingdom of heaven is here not an idea about an afterlife at all, but about participation in that Kingdom through discipleship, even in the here and the now.  How do we participate in and live in that Kingdom?  How do we bear it within us and into the world?  The Beatitudes give us this idea of exchange, one way of life for another.  We practice the life of the Kingdom:  we practice mercy, we risk forms of persecution for righteousness' sake, seek to live by purity of heart, live by humility, are comforted through God's love, seek God's peace in all things, and honor and recognize the deep desire within for righteousness.  All of these things are ways in which we may live in the Kingdom and grow in its influence and work in us.  The life Christ presents isn't one of fulfilling certain rules or creating an image for others.  It is rather life itself, a living reality that works and dwells and uses its energies in us to grow that life.  Just as Christ's sacrifice on the Cross is an indication of the exchange of one kind of life for another, so we also live to Him and accept the life He offers us.  In this sense, reconciliation becomes the act of becoming, so to speak; God indwelling in us unites us to the reality of God's kingdom and it grows in us and through us with holy power.  As Jesus puts it here, the Kingdom is one of participation.  As we seek to participate, so it grows in us through this mysterious power of heaven and holiness.  All the parables Christ will present of the Kingdom give us this mysterious understanding of growth that is not attained by understanding, but rather by living something, being something.  He asks us to take the initiative, take the risk, the chance, to be like Him.  In turn He dwells in us and makes His home within our hearts, through a mysterious process growing the Kingdom within us.  Note the condition of purity of heart:  this is all about what we truly desire and how we honor a pure need within for the righteousness He offers.  We may find all kinds of impulses and desires and temptations that get in the way of that desire, but the key is to honor it, cherish it, love it among the rest of the choices we might find.  This blessed way of life is the true treasure of the heart.  Who we are becomes a question of what it is we really desire.

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