Matthew 5:1-12 - The Beatitudes
5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
One of the most common mistakes that we make when reading the Bible today is assuming that the sole aim of the biblical authors was to write history. None of the beautiful voices that come together to create the tapestry of the Christian Scriptures had the ability to transcend their space and time as they wrote their parts of God’s story. Each author writes all written from a perspective and that perspective is shaped by everything from their geography to their culture, from their experience to their agenda.
Yes. You read that right. Agenda. Though, the word ‘agenda’ is often used today in a negative sense (like referring to a person with an ulterior motive as having a hidden agenda), writing with an agenda simply means writing with a purpose. It means that the biblical writers wrote with intention. They had a message to communicate in a way that would provoke a response.
The writers of Kings and Chronicles wrote and interpreted the stories of Israel’s broken relationship with power and prestige not simply to tell the story but that we might learn from it.
The prophets (and those who wrote down their words) wrote with conviction and passion about God’s call to repent and remember; his invitation for Israel to return to what they were made to be.
Paul wrote to challenge and educate, encourage and affirm.
John writes his Gospel through the lens of a theme: seven ‘signs’ that represent the seven days in creation. It’s not just about what he writes, it’s about the way in which he writes it. His message and his method reveal to us that Christ is re-creating the world and inviting us to be part of his new creation work.
And Matthew has an agenda too. He’s writing to a mainly Jewish audience and he wants them to see something specific and particular, not just in the story but also in the way in which he tells it.
He tells the story of Jesus’ birth and Herod’s fearful and threatened response and it mirrors Pharaoh’s reaction to the birth of Moses.
He writes of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt and their return to Galilee and quotes Hosea through whom God says, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son’, referring to Moses leading the nation of Israel out of Pharaoh’s grasp and toward the Promised Land.
At his baptism, Jesus enters and exits the water … just as Moses and Israel entered and exited the Red Sea.
Jesus he is led into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days … just as Moses and Israel wandered and were tempted in the wilderness for forty years.
Matthew is not simply laying out the facts. He’s making a case to his Jewish audience who have spent their lives looking up to Moses and seeking to obey the Law God gave them through him.
'Connect the dots!’, Matthew is saying to them. ‘Jesus is the new Moses!’
From his baptism and temptation, Jesus moves to a mountain … Just as Moses journeyed to a mountain.
On Mount Sinai, Moses received the Law from God and gave it to the people. On this historic mountainside, God teaches the people what righteousness looks like and shows them what it means to live beautifully and distinctly as the people of God, his emissaries to the world.
In Matthew 5, Jesus, who is God made flesh, climbs an unnamed mountain and gathers people around him to listen. This is the new Sinai. The new revelation of God to his people about what it means to live in the distinctive way of his Kingdom. Jesus’ words are not just the sayings of a sage or nice thoughts from a nice man. They are a manifesto. They speak to us of community and forgiveness, justice and mercy, righteousness and redemption. Jesus, who is God, is reminding us what it means to be made in the image of God.
He begins this sermon, often called ‘The Sermon on the Mount’, with the Beatitudes, sayings about what it means to be blessed. It’s crucial to point out that these are not recipes to receive blessing but, rather, the fruit of obeying them is a blessing, in and of itself.
When he says, ‘Blessed are …’ it could also be translated are ‘Happy are …’ or ‘Delighted are’. The sayings are not a means to an end. They are a way of being fully and truly human as the people of God.
Scott Evans is the Church of Ireland chaplain to University College Dublin, producer of The Graveyard Shift Podcast and co-founder of Paradoxology, a prayer space at Ireland’s Electric Picnic music festival. He grew up in Bangladesh and his life has been a series of crazy decisions, odd adventures and bad haircuts. He is also the author of 3 books, Closer Still, Beautiful Attitudes and Failing From The Front (& Other Lessons From The Lives of Losers.) He loves Vietnamese food, coffee, writing, Aston Villa and Jesus.