4 November 2012Matthew 5:1-12
"Blessed are you when people revile and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven." (vv. 11, 12a)
This passage marks the beginning of the 'Sermon on the Mount', which continues through chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew's Gospel. It is one of five separate sets of teaching in Matthew's Gospel. It was not really one sermon but a collection of Jesus' teachings which were collected by Matthew because he saw them as containing the important themes of Jesus' ministry and mission.
In these verses Jesus is announcing that in him God is doing a new thing, bringing a new age to pass - the long-anticipated promise of redemption is beginning.
It was integral to Jewish thinking that the coming of the expected Messiah would constitute a return to the glory days of Israel. In contrast for Jesus this coming kingdom, which he was ushering in, would not be one of unadulterated joy and prosperity. Rather it would entail suffering for himself and for those who followed him.
Some people read these 'Beatitudes' - the 'blessed are you' statements - as if the promises they contain will only come to pass 'in heaven', that is, after death. But such a reading is a misunderstanding of 'heaven'. Heaven is not somewhere beyond this world, but God's space interlocking with human reality both now in this life as well as beyond: "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" we pray regularly. Jesus' life and witness calls us to live that promised future life now - however challenging that might be.
- To what extent are you prepared to be reviled by people in your family or workplace by making it plain that you seek to be a follower of Jesus?
- "Pie in the sky when you die" is the cynical phrase sometimes used by doubters to ridicule Christians and their beliefs. How would you try to explain a different understanding of 'heaven'?