Matthew 5: 1-16
If you have been connected with the church for any length of time you will be familiar with this gospel passage you will have heard it read and preached on probably a large number of times. This is the start of Jesus discourse of the Sermon on the Mount. The text is very straight forward; there are no hidden meanings, the hearer is not left trying to work out the meaning; it is not like Jesus’s encounter with the pharisees or the religious authorities.
The words maybe straight forward but the implications are not and every time you revisit them you find new depths, new challenges. Today is remembrance Sunday so some will be particularly poignant and as we are approaching advent, the time we use to prepare for God coming into the world you may also want to reflect on them both as a whole or perhaps individually in whatever way you feel led.
First though, take note of Matthew’s first sentence. “Jesus saw the crowds and went up a hill, where he sat down. His disciples gathered round him, and he began to teach them”. So, this is not addressed to the crowd but to those who have already made a commitment, these are the hard yards so to speak.
These eight beatitudes are not singular and separate so it is not like some are called to be merciful whilst others to be peacemakers. They are Jesus’s specification, his expectations of the qualities; the character of Christian people. And this is for all of us not just for those we might look to as “super Christians”.
So, let’s look briefly at them and see what can be teased out for each of us.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
This means we are to live without a need for our own righteousness. It is inner emptiness; no outer need for reputation. In business the higher up you go the more you have to tow the party line, that’s the price you pay. You have to act in a certain way follow the rules. Jesus is saying avoid this. It is very easy to say and behave in a way that is contrary to ‘the truth’- we do it to survive to be accepted by the group.
You are better off outside the system; you don’t have to play the game.
Blessed are those that mourn for they will be comforted
Claire in the all souls service last week mentioned how tears and grieving are part of remembering. There is salt in our tears and some evidence that it carries away toxins from our bodies. Jesus here is also describing the state of those that weep who have something to mourn about. They feel the pain of the world; those who can grieve and cry understand. Especially today on remembrance Sunday to understand the futility of war and to weep for the hatred that it perpetrates for the dark side of humanity. This is to not look for perpetrators or victims but to weep for the tragedy it is. God’s tears are always for everyone.
Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.
This Beatitude is a quote from Psalm 37 v 11 “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace”. Conflicts more often than not is about is about the possession of land or resources and the use of violence to obtain it or hold on to it. So, the powerful win out. Not only in war but in our society, we are bound up in ownership and possession. Jesus is turning this on its head and saying no it is the small that will inherit.
Is not possession an illusion when the light of the kingdom of God is shone onto it? After all what do we truly possess; but this is ridiculous talk unless you understand the story/the gospel and the good news it is.
Francis of Assisi – told us never to own anything so that we can be open to everything.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.
What is the message here? Is it make sure you are never satisfied? Keep yourself in a constant state of dissatisfaction. When we move through layers of prayer past superficial desires, we find out what our real desires are and it is always God
Saint Augustine – “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God”
Even the wealthiest person is never satisfied; that is the character of greed you always want more/a higher dosage to achieve the old satisfaction. Jesus is saying why not go in the opposite direction? Directly and positively choose emptiness until it loses its terror.
Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.
Mercy is like the mystery of forgiveness. By definition, mercy is unearned, undeserved and not owed. If it isn’t all of those it is not experienced as mercy. If you think people have to be merciful, or, on the other hand, try to earn mercy, you’ve lost the mystery of it and with it the heart of the gospel. Don’t we have a gratuitous and generous God who just loves and saves? God has made a covenant which is not broken from his side. It can be broken on our side by clutching to our sins and beating ourselves up instead of surrendering to the divine mercy. By not doing that are we saying we are better than mercy. I’m only going to accept when I’m worthy? Only in humility can we live in and after mercy.
Only when we understand what God has done for us, dying, becoming powerless and not withholding anything can we both receive it and give it away.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God
When the heart is right, seeing will be right. If your heart is cold your vision will be distorted. Perhaps you don’t like someone; you want to hurt someone because they hurt you. There may be coldness and unforgiveness or rejection so your heart is not pure. So, Jesus call is for purity of heart and correct seeing will follow.
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God.
Again, is this at the heart of things peace making is reconciling. Jesus is not on the side of violence but on the side of the non-violent. We still see all too often that people, nations think they can bring about peace by violence but that only leads to oppression. The peace that Jesus offers is very different and is based around justice and self-sacrifice. It calls on us to sacrifice any false power, prestige and possessions. The peace that Jesus gives is different to that which the world gives.
The beatitudes can be life changing and a blessing if we let them. They will be a blessing to us so that we can be a blessing to others. But here on remembrance Sunday when we think of conflicts and wars both worldwide or in different parts of the world with the powers not listening or hearing this counterintuitive message it all seems beyond us and not something we can affect.
Perhaps this is where the second part of the reading comes into play, the call to be salt and light. Think about salt for a moment small grains, when you put it on your food you cannot see it but you know it is there and it makes a difference.
So, we start where we are with those people we come into contact with every day. For each of us that will be different; and there are as many different life stories as there are people on this call.
As all of you know I work for an insurance company and ultimately, I have 25 people who report to me and who I am responsible for. I spend 8 to 10 hours a day five days a week with them in various groupings. How do I bring what God expects of me to bear in those encounters on a daily basis?
With there being 25 people, I come across a wide range of situations some good and some bad and I want to act with integrity each time. Do I get it right all the time; of course not, far from it. So, I’ve reflected about the past year and share some anonymous situations.
During this time three people have suffered bereavements’, one lost a son and another a father to COVID-19. Because of working in different ways, a lot being from home people have suffered with mental health issues, some genuine and some not. Still others have problems with anger who are not able to vent in the normal way. There are those because of the isolation who have lost confidence in who they are and what they can do.
God expects me to be, do and act in a way that is consistent with the beatitudes. This is a challenge for me. I wonder what is God calling you to at this moment?
Perhaps another way to look at it.
I’m sure we have all heard of IQ – logical intelligence our capacity to process and apply knowledge in a rational fashion. Apparently for a long time this was the only sort of intelligence that was recognised as important and valid. However, other types of intelligence are now recognised. Where I work there is a lot of talk about EQ – emotional intelligence which is considered just as important as it provides the awareness of other people’s feelings, as well as our own. It enables empathy, compassion and the capacity to respond to other people’s pain. It enables us to ‘read’ people at an emotional level. Unlike IQ which is generally thought to be fairly static EQ can be cultivated and grown.
However, when we think about the beatitudes, we are perhaps looking at a third area that of SQ – spiritual intelligence. SQ drives us to explore the big questions: why am I here? What is the purpose of life? Which path should I follow? Spiritual intelligence is about the big picture; it looks for an overarching sense of meaning to life. SQ like EQ, I would suggest, is something that also can be cultivated and grown.
Spiritual intelligence is thinking with the soul looking for the deeper answers. Church should be a place where we can do that. For sure this is a place where beliefs are taught and affirmed but it must also be a place where spiritual intelligence is nurtured. This means creating the space where beliefs can be questioned and doubted and explored in an open fashion. Where we can explore argue and debate and come up with new meanings about what faith today looks like. In other words, SQ prompts us to criticise or question the status quo, allowing us to imagine situations and possibilities that do not yet exist.
So, what does spiritual intelligence look like in practice what are its qualities. Perhaps to name a few but there will be others.
- Self-awareness – an understanding of what makes us tick, in terms of values and motivations.
- Empathy – the ability to identify with others and share in their feelings.
- Humility – having a measured sense of our place in the wider scheme of things.
- Resilience – remaining positive in the face of adversity and able to learn and grow from mistakes and setbacks.
- Receptivity – staying open and welcoming towards diversity and difference.
We need to continue to cultivate this within our community here to journey with each other to help each other grow to be blessed and to be a blessing. To help with this the diocese have developed a personal discipleship plan which we will be exploring here. This is an accompanied faith journey with a mentor to help us question, grow and feel more confident to live out our lives in all areas of life. More will be shared about this over the coming weeks.
The beatitudes a lot to think about, reflect on and act on. Amen.