If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
26 October. Matthew chapters 5-7
These chapters comprise the “Sermon on the Mount”, the fullest account we have of the direct teaching of Jesus about how to live a holy and fulfilled life. It is presented as a single set of teachings, although it may actually be a summary of his teachings on many occasions. Any one of the short passages among them would be the basis for a sermon. Indeed, a couple of years ago I wrote a series of Lent reflections for my London parish just on the Beatitudes (the first eleven verses of chapter 5). So I will revisit the introduction I gave then.
The opening verse of the “sermon” tells us “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them.” That gives us the correct order of things. First Jesus was present (and people knew it), secondly his disciples made time to come to him, and thirdly he spoke, and they learnt from him. Learning from Jesus requires these three things us of us: to believe in him, to come to where he is (whether that is in a church meeting, or in our own quiet times at home) and to be ready to listen and learn. And that means having the humility of the true scholar, of knowing that we have much to learn. In the words of an old hymn –
Come to my heart, O Thou wonderful love, come and abide,
Lifting my life, till it rises above envy and falsehood and pride,
Seeking to be: lowly and humble, a learner of Thee.
Robert Walmsley (1831-1905)
Before we go any further, we need to be clear what we mean by being “blessed”. The word “beatitude” comes from the Latin word for it (beatus). The original Greek word is “makarios”. Some modern versions of the Bible translate the word as “happy” but that can sound rather shallow – a feeling of happiness can be easily caused by all sorts of small things in life, and just as easily shattered when bad things happen.
The happiness that Jesus promises is something much more profound, and has little to do with the pleasures of life. The sort of happiness we are looking at here is not the contentment of having all the material things we need, but the satisfaction of knowing that we are living God’s way and building right relationships with other people. Turning away from the sort of behaviour that harms oneself or others, and living in a way that builds community. Being at peace with God because we know we have put things right in some way.