Fr Cuthbert Brennan OSB
Imagine with me for a moment the make-up of the crowd in today’s gospel. They are made up of the poor, the sick, the demon-possessed the socially excluded, those on the margins of society – those whom the Jewish world would not have called blessed. What Jesus tries to get across to the crowd is that the life he is about to describe – a life of blessing in God’s kingdom – is really and truly available to them. What is in common with all the beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel, is that every group called blessed is vulnerable in Jesus’ society. He turns on its head the Jewish notion of what it means to be blessed.
There are nine beatitudes and I want to read them again with you in groups of three. Let’s start with the first three. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek. Jesus is saying, Christianity begins with the desperate. Are you miserable? Is life not going as you planned? Here’s the good news, you’re right where the gospel takes root. Are you bored? , disillusioned with church? There’s a message here for you as well, “If you want to see what Christianity is really about then hang out with those who are hungry, those who are rejected by society, those whose spirit is crushed, because that’s where you will find Jesus”.
The next three beatitudes say, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart. What does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness? It is to, despite our shortcomings and failures, to be so focused on God and walking God’s ways and sharing God’s heart that God’s life becomes our daily sustenance.
Then there’s the merciful. This is the central beatitude of the nine. Jesus says to us treat others the way God treats you. Demonstrate to others the mercy you beg God for.
Next we come to blessed are the pure in heart. We’ve all had the experience of preparing our to-do lists, where we have to list what’s urgent and what’s important. Purity of heart for the Christian is ultimately knowing as a matter of habit which things are important. It allows you in a moment of crisis or despair, to see the one thing that no one is able to see, because you never stopped looking at it.
The last three beatitudes are about what happens to us when we follow the logic of Jesus’ life and teaching – when we embody the gospel.
Blessed are the peacemakers. To be a peacemaker we need to understand how the first group of beatitudes, how sin, and unfairness and suffering lead to conflicts and then we need to be disciplined in our practice of the next three beatitudes because peace making needs mercy, a healthy sense of perspective and of course needs God. How do you become a peacemaker? Ask yourself each morning, “What kind of presence am I going to be in the world today?”
Then we have the last two, blessed are those who are persecuted for
righteousness sake, blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Jesus is talking about those who love God so much that they don’t care who knows, how much it costs, how unpopular it makes them, how much it endangers their lives. To develop such a life requires commitment, disciplined practice and investment of your whole being.
There is a story told that on our deathbeds our life will flash before our eyes? Before you die, what life will flash before your eyes? Playing it safe doesn’t make it memorable. Jesus invites us to be vulnerable, to enter into the pathos and joy of the Christian life. The closer we get to the cross of Christ, the closer we get to resurrection. Because you see Jesus doesn’t just speak the gospel. He lives it. This is Jesus’ autobiography. The beatitudes are Jesus saying “This is who I am – this is how to be like me – this is how to be me, to be my body in the world.”
To be a Christian is to live the beatitudes. Sometimes our world and church can seem an inhospitable place for some of us. What the beatitudes encourage us to see, is that we ought to stand ready to invite absolutely anyone into the life of Christ. We should be careful of how we judge who is suitable to take up discipleship, who we called blessed. The distinctions we might take to be relevant, simply are not – gay or straight, tattooed or not, piercings or not, married or single, catholic, protestant, orthodox, Muslim, atheist. Everyone is invited to surrender their life today and walk into the fullness of life in God.
Blessed, blessed are you.