Today Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount. It is interesting to note that we will be reading this sermon every Sunday all the way until Lent. The Sermon on the Mount is the largest continuous block of Jesus' teaching. In many ways it compares to the Law of Moses, and with good reason. We see that in the first sentence Jesus goes up the mountain, and he sits down. Going up the mountain is a way to remind the reader of Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Law. Jesus however, does not receive the law, he gives the law. So, Jesus is the new Moses, and the law he gives is a new law.
It seems to me that these beatitudes we hear today compare to the 10 commandments of Moses. Many of us, however, can get the wrong impression of these beatitudes. Where the commandments give an instruction: thou shall not. The beatitudes make a statement: blessed are you. Some of these beatitudes sound like the kind of things we are supposed to do: we are supposed to be merciful, we are supposed to be peacemakers. But, I don't think that Jesus is telling us to go out and mourn, to go out and get persecuted. So what are these beatitudes all about?
When we hear the word blessed, makarioi in the Greek, I think many of us think of this as an emotional state. However, the Greek word means something more like fortunate. It refers to an objective situation. We might translate it in our colloquial English as lucky. Lucky are they who win the lottery. Lucky are they who survive crashes, etc. At first, this might actually make Jesus' words more difficult to understand. Lucky are those who mourn? Fortunate those who are persecuted? What is Jesus getting at here?
Jesus is re-envisioning the law. But, if we think of the law in isolation all we think about are the commands, not the context. Why did God give the law in the first place? It was based upon a relationship. You will be my people and I will be your God. The law explains to the people how they are to maintain their relationship with God. Do you want to be God's people? Follow these commands. The same thing is true with the Beatitudes, they provide a context for a relationship with Christ. However, these beatitudes do not prescribe external conduct, the 10 Commandments in the Old Testament do that for us. Rather, these new commandments, from the new Moses, tell us about internal disposition. Each of these beatitudes tell us of a way that we can either be like Christ or they tell us of a situation where we need to call out to Christ. Poor in Spirit, you are like Christ who did not hesitate to eat with tax collectors and sinners. Mourning, call out to Christ in the midst of your pain and you will find comfort in the Gospel. Meek, you will be like Jesus who did not retaliate to suffering and crucifixion. Hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will be like Jesus who drove the money-changers from the temple. Merciful, you will be like Jesus who on the cross said: Father, forgive them… Clean of heart, you will be like Christ who said to the woman caught in adultery "neither do I condemn you." Peacemaker, you will be like Christ who came to overcome sin and division. Persecuted or insulted, you will be like Christ who was persecuted, and you should call on Christ in the midst of your difficulty.
Truly, blessed are they, fortunate are they, because they will have a relationship with Christ. You notice that each of these beatitudes come with a promise. These promises explain to us what it means to have a relationship with Christ: we will receive the Kingdom, comfort, inheritance, satisfaction, mercy, and the sight of God, not as objectively quantifiable goods, but as fruits that flow from communion with Christ.
How fortunate we are indeed! We are Christians! We have been baptized into Christ. We share a unique relationship with him. We are the Body of Christ. Nowhere is this more evident than here at the Mass. Today, in a few moments, we will come forward and receive Holy Communion, we will receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. Christ's list of beatitudes is full and complete. But, in the history of the Church we have added another one that we say at every Mass. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, blessed are they who are called to his supper.