26 July 2016

Matthew 5:1-12

“Blessed …” (v. 3 et al)

Psalm: Psalm 119:145-160 


There is a sense of drama about this scene.

Matthew's Gospel sets the Sermon on the Mount early in the ministry of Jesus and through the evocative word picture painted in verse 1, clearly elevates this moment to one of great significance: "Jesus saw the crowds … [and] went up the mountain". (Is there an allusion to Moses and the commandments here?). He "sat down" (v. 2) - a deliberate, 'I've-got-something-important-to-say-to-you' action; and when Jesus had gathered the people, he taught them.

The setting is dramatic, but what are we to say of the teaching itself. Each beatitude begins with the Greek word translated for us as "Blessed", although in some versions of the Bible we will read "happy". Although there is probably enough in the origins of the word to permit that translation, the context and content suggests that "blessed" is preferable. To 'be happy' essentially catches how a person feels in any given moment, but Jesus is not actually talking about feelings here. He is not saying that "the poor in spirit" (v. 3) or "those who mourn" (v. 4) feel delighted by their circumstances, but rather that God declares that within those circumstances they are blessed. To be blessed is to be the recipient of the unlimited and often unmerited blessings of God on our lives. It is how the Lord sees us, how he regards us, not how we feel inside. God's people are blessed, even if difficult circumstances as they seek to live lives that please God and reflect the servant humility of Christ.

Scholars have debated at length whether we are supposed to understand this divine blessing as being confined to some future fulfilment when the kingdom comes in its completeness. However, this is to risk disconnecting the "kingdom of heaven" (v. 10) from earthly reality which should not be the case. Jesus brought the kingdom into our everyday lives in a real and particular way, and the assured blessedness of a 'one-day-it-will-arrive' eternity, is surely to be held alongside a current reality of knowing ourselves blessed by God in our day-to-day experience. We are 'blessed' not only because of our future participation in God's (eternal) kingdom, but because of our present assurance of God's blessing.

To Ponder

  • Can you recall a time when you have known yourself 'blessed' despite being profoundly 'unhappy'? Give thanks to God for that.
  • What does it mean for you today to "hunger and thirst for righteousness"?
  • "Do not pray that the persecution will stop. Pray that we will have courage to keep the faith in the midst of persecution" (Prayer request from a Christian in Syria). How can you best support those who are persecuted for their faith?

Bible notes author

The Revd Mark Dunn-Wilson

The Revd Mark Dunn-Wilson is currently the superintendent minister of the Truro Circuit in central Cornwall where he has served for ten years and still going strong. Prior to Cornwall, Mark was a presbyter in the Liverpool District for 14 years.