Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:

‘How happy are the poor in spirit:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:
they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right:
they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers:
they shall be called sons of God.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’

Mt 5:1-12

One of the most widely recognised Gospel passages is the Beatitudes, more commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ great teaching discourse parallels with Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (6:20-26), set by the Sea of Galilee. Matthew’s account takes place on a mountain so as to reinforce Jesus as the new Moses, a recurring theme of the Gospel. Unlike Moses who ascends the mountain to receive the law from Yahweh (Ex: 19-20), Jesus is the giver of the new law and he is the source of the new Covenant.

Matthew inserted this discourse to call for an authentic interpretation of the spirit of the Law of Moses. Rather than observing Mosaic Law through blind practice and shallow piety, as was the case with the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus preached that true righteousness is found by living out the Beatitudes. The word for ‘Blessed’ in Greek is Makarios, which denotes one’s righteousness before God.

The Beatitudes are a set of blessings which bring true happiness, many of them drawn from the Old Testament (Isaiah and Psalms). This is in keeping with Matthew’s Gospel on the whole, which quotes the Hebrew Scriptures some forty one times. The Beatitudes follow a distinctive pattern and logic. Each blessing builds upon the one before it; the beatitude of spiritual poverty is thus the foundation for all of them. According to St Augustine, the first seven beatitudes correspond to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Is 11:2), while the eighth beatitude summarises the first seven.

One might wonder how being ‘poor in spirit’ or ‘mournful’ or ‘hungering for justice’ will bring happiness or be considered to be a blessing. It is when one cultivates these qualities however i.e. gentleness, mercy, peacefulness that there is a total reliance and dependence on God, and thus ultimate happiness is found.

Anthony Cleary
Director, Mission & Identity