The Beatitudes: An Introduction

The Beatitudes: An Introduction

In Matthew’s Gospel, the Beatitudes (5:3-12) appear directly after the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. The introduction reads:

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up to the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying…”

This introduction of the Beatitudes is significant for the rich imagery that it presents. In reference to the crowds, we are reminded that “many people were present when Jesus was teaching that day. What he had to say was for ordinary people, not just an elite inner circle. His words are for everyone and anyone. In the verses just before the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew describes the sort of person who would have been in the crowd: ‘They brought unto him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and torments, people possessed with devils, epileptics, paralytics, and he healed them.'” (Forest, J., Ladder of the Beatitudes, pp. 15)

In Jesus’ action of ascending the mountain, we are reminded that mountains are often privileged places for the revelations of or from God. Forest has described mountains as “images of earth reaching toward heaven, thus places of encounter between Creator and creature.” (Ladder of the Beatitudes, pp. 15) It was at Mount Sinai where Moses would receive the covenant (Torah). In Isaiah, we read: “Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God!” (40:9) In a similar way, Isaiah proclaims: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, your God is King!” (52:7) In Matthew 17:1-3, there is still greater imagery of mountains: “After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.”

In sitting down and teaching, Jesus assume the position of a “revered Jewish teacher.” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, pp. 175) In the Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13:1 states: “On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea” whereas in the Healing of Many People, Matthew 15:29 notes that “Moving on from there, Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, went up on the mountain, and sat down there.” In Matthew 24:3 (The Beginning of the Calamities), we also see this divine posture: “As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately and said, ‘tell us when this will happen, and what sign will there be of your coming, and of the end of the age.'” Finally, during the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, we read: “Day after day I sat teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me.” (Mt 26:55)  While Moses received the truth, Jesus was the truth! In Matthew 7:28-29, this reality is clearly evident: “When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” As such, while Moses received and disseminated the content of the truth, Jesus was the content of the truth.

Given this background, what then is a beatitude?

According to Father Donald Senior (The Gospel of Matthew, pp. 176), “a beatitude (Latin) or makarism (Greek) is a statement in the indicative mood beginning with a form of the adjective, makarios, declaring certain people to be in a privileged situation or fortunate circumstance. In a religious context, makarios means ‘blessed by God.’ It connotes the German heil, the Greek for salvation (soteria), the Hebrew for peace and well being (salom), and the colloquial English (okay). Beatitudes normally occur in third-person forms, but are also found in the second-person address.” There have also been questions raised as to whether “these blessings are law or gospel, ethical requirements, or eschatological blessings. Baruk (Hebrew translation of blessed) sayings are invocations of covenant promises on the recipient (e.g., Abraham in Gen 12:2-3 and 22:17-18). In relation to the Sinai covenant, God’s covenant faithfulness was seen as a blessing on the people (e.g., Deut 7:12-13 and Isa 61:9). As such, the beatitudes become the proclamation of the fulfillment of all these promises, the blessings of the everlasting covenant pronounced on the faithful who keep the covenant.” (Farmer, W., The International Bible Commentary: A Catholic Commentary for the 21st Century, pp. 1270)

In the Gospel of Matthew, the Eternal Word lays out the beatitudes for us:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (5:3);

Blessed are the mourners, for they will be comforted (5:4);

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land (5:5);

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied (5:6);

Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy (5:7);

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (5:8);

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God (5:9);

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (5:10);

Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute and speak every evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets before you. (5:11-12)

Blessed indeed!

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Written by
Deacon Kurt Godfryd