The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12)

In the Sermon on the Mount we have depicted the life of repentance that Jesus had already called his listeners towards. Throughout the sermon Jesus will contrast his followers from those who adopt the outlook of the Pharisees and those who follow the ideas of pagan philosophers, both of which were common at that time. Similarly, his teachings in this sermon can be contrasted with all religious and psychological ideas for self-improvement that abound in our culture.

We are familiar with the Beatitudes, although sometimes familiarity can hide from us the radical nature of what Jesus says about his followers. Yet it is obvious from what he says that we should be able to identify his followers because they will be very different from everyone else. Moreover we can see that they are also rich with regard to the future. It is also the case that Jesus, when he preached this sermon, merely listed the different details, which points to the fact that they can be understood easily.

There are two questions that arise from the Beatitudes. The first is, what character traits should we admire? The second is, what does it mean to be blessed? Regarding the first, we can ask ourselves what ingredients go into the mix of producing a balanced spiritual person? And regarding the second, we can ask where we will enjoy the blessings described by Jesus here?

There are different ways of summarising the Beatitudes. We could say that here we have the basics of a real believer, the balance of a real believer, and the blessings of a real believer. Or we could consider them as the contrast between members of the two kingdoms, the challenges of living in the kingdom, and the consummation of life in the kingdom.

The Saviour is not making suggestions here when he outlines the character of his people. Nor is he describing only those who have made more progress than others. Rather he is listing the qualities that marks each of them. So what does he say about them?

What does he mean when he says that each of his followers is blessed? The word can be translated as ‘happy’, although that would be inappropriate here because Jesus is not speaking about their inner emotional attitude when he says that they are blessed. Of course, he does mention some inner attitudes and outlooks of his followers, but what makes them blessed is the divine response and blessings that he will give to them in the future.

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