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, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”Matthew 5:1-12a (Lectionary)
The Blessed Life
On a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus relished a moment of solitude with his heavenly Father. He had just completed a whirlwind circuit of the “Galilee of the Gentiles,” teaching, healing, and casting out demons (Matthew 4:12-25.) His fame spread as far as Syria to the north, Judea to the south, the Mediterranean coast to the east, and the Decapolis to the west. Hungering for wholeness and healing, crowds clamored for Christ’s attention. As multitudes thronged, he withdrew to the mountain.
When the disciples found their rabbi seated on a rock, he began his discourse on the eight beatitudes. Reminiscent of Moses on Mount Sinai, who received the law on tablets of stone, the new Moses enfleshed the law as living truth. Starting with “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus turned the values of the world upside-down. From the first to the last beatitude, a portrait of the poor, merciful Christ emerges: the blueprint for sanctity.
Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit
Who is poorer than the Son of Man who has “nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20)? The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who abandon themselves to divine providence. In their poverty, patriarchs and prophets like Abraham, Moses, and Elijah received guidance and sustenance in the wilderness. The God who rains manna in the desert leads the poor into the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed Are They Who Mourn
In a world torn by injustice, a sorrowful heart cries out for shalom—peace, wholeness, and restoration. One of the best-loved models of holy mourning in Scripture is Queen Esther, who, along with Mordecai, bewailed the holocaust devised by the evil Haman (Esther 4). Interceding for her people through prayer and fasting, Esther averted their annihilation. Her queenship anticipated that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who suffered greatly with her Son for the salvation of the world. “And you yourself a sword will pierce,” Simeon prophesied (Luke 2:35). The Holy Spirit (paraklétos) moves in pure hearts that resist evil and injustice. Thus they will be comforted (parakaleó).
Blessed Are the Meek
Not to be confused with weak, the meek possess the power of the Spirit to drown Egyptian chariots and horses in the Red Sea (Exodus 3:23-31). God chose Moses, the meekest man “on the face of the earth,” to overthrow Pharaoh and his armies (Numbers 12:3, RSV). The new Moses—“meek and humble of heart”—entered the Promised Land through his cross and resurrection (Matthew 11:29).
The dominion of the Prince of Peace, humble and riding on a donkey, “will be from sea to sea” (Zechariah 9:9-10).
But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace (shalom).Psalm 37:11 (ESV)
Blessed Are They Who Hunger and Thirst For Righteousness
“May he have dominion from sea to sea,” hymns the royal Psalm 72 in praise of the righteous king (Psalm 72:8). From the paradisal east, “the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings,” Malachi prophesied (Malachi 4:2 (3:20)). In the Song of the Suffering Servant, the “righteous one” bears the iniquities of transgressors (Isaiah 53:11-12). Meekly, “he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). On the cross, the “righteous Branch” of David expired with the words, “I thirst” and “It is finished” (Jeremiah 33:15; John 19:28-30). Thirsting for righteousness—oneness with the Father—Jesus gave up his life for rebels.
With the meek, the righteous shall inherit the land and be satisfied.
The righteous shall possess the land, and dwell upon it for ever.Psalm 37:29 (RSV)
Blessed Are the Merciful
Like a mother swaddling the child of her womb, God enfolds his children with compassion. In Hebrew, racham (mercy, compassion) comes from rechem (womb). “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” King David psalms, “who redeems your life from the pit, and crowns you with mercy and compassion” (Psalm 103:1-4).
The Gospels frequently describe Jesus as “moved with compassion” for the sick and suffering.1 The Greek verb splagchnizomai comes from splagchnon (the inward parts: heart, liver, lungs, etc.). Divine mercy springs from God’s inmost being—his heart and womb. Jesus, begotten “from the womb of the morning,” is the very heart of the Father (Psalm 2:7; 110:3). Mercy longs to relieve the suffering of the oppressed.
Blessed are the merciful who share God’s heart, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed Are the Clean of Heart
No one except the Son has ever seen God (John 1:18). But through Christ, the “pure in heart” can acquire his “single eye” and attain the vision of God.2 Only one with “clean hands and a pure heart” shall ascend the mountain of the Lord (Psalm 24:3-4). Purity of heart is doing the Father’s will (John 6:38). Saints in Christ who are one with the Father see God “face to face” (John 10:30; 1 Corinthians 13:12).
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Where the Prince of Shalom reigns, divine peace radiates. “Be reconciled to God!” Paul writes (1 Corinthians 5:20). Inner peace with God is foundational for outer peace in the world. The cross that reconciled Jews and Gentiles must be planted in the soil of the heart (Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 1:19-20). Cruciform saints say with Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Peacemakers who are “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” will be called children of God (Romans 6:11).
Blessed Are They Who Are Persecuted For the Sake of Righteousness
How are the persecuted “blessed”? Their lot seems to be the very opposite of makarios (blessed, happy). In a fallen world, hearts united with Christ mourn evil and thus suffer for it. “The mourning of which the Lord speaks is nonconformity with evil,” writes Pope Benedict XVI.3 Noncompliance with diabolical schemes requires grace and courage.
Christ does not promise a trouble-free life but peace in the midst of tribulation. Leading the way by accepting the cross with serenity, he assures us that he is not alone, “for the Father is with me” (John 16:32). All who follow in his footsteps will have “peace in me” and receive the “crown of life” (John 16:33; Revelation 2:10).
“In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”John 16:33 (RSV)
Come up to the mountain to hear Christ paint
The eight beatitudes—the portrait of a saint.
1 Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22; Luke 7:13; 10:33; 15:20.
2 Matthew 6:22: “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light” (various translations).
3 Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 87.