The Sermon on the Mount: Suffer Well

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who crave righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

These first 4 beatitudes are affirmations of people who are struggling with the fact that life is hard. Their spirit is less than it could be, they are grieving, they are not brazen, they are not satisfied with the way things are. This tone should not come as a surprise in chapter 5 of Matthew for those who have read the first 4 chapters.

Matthew 1 includes a genealogy that includes all sorts of wild twists and turns, including a protracted and difficult exile. It then presents the story of Joseph getting the troubling news that his betrothed is pregnant and not by him. Joseph is reassured, but he needed to be; it was all very difficult.

Matthew 2 is about wise men traveling great distances looking for hope, only to encounter a ruler who is a deceptive threat to that hope. This results in Joseph fearing for his family and fleeing toward a land he does not know. Even when they do return, they have reason for concern and have to be careful about not being found out.

Matthew 3 reveals a wild prophet who is sent to straighten out God’s people. They need correction because their religious leaders have become rotten. John’s message is a harsh wake-up call. Jesus joins those who respond and there is reassurance, but…

Matthew 4 has Jesus tested to the limits immediately after being affirmed by the Father and met by the Spirit. And then we see that the godly prophet is imprisoned and that Jesus needs to relocate yet again. Disciples are called and what do they do? They engage in a world filled with hurt and confusion. And that is where Jesus takes to a mountainside to sit them down and explain how blessing and the hard realities of life are inter-related.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who crave righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

The next four beatitudes offer a more positive tone:

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.

How do these contrasting beatitudes work together?

That is the wisdom Jesus wants his disciples to ponder and practice. He will explain each of these individually and will summarize how they play out in a complicated and challenging world. That is what the Sermon on the Mount is all about.

But even as he reassures that there is hope, he also reasserts that there is need for hope.

Man of Sorrows by Luis de Morales

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow,

for tomorrow will worry about itself.

Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Mt. 6:34

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