To read the texts click on the texts: Zeph 2:3; 3:12-13; 1 Cor1:26-31; Mt 5:1-12
There is a tendency even today among some of us to project the solutions to all our problems into the future. This may be termed as “a pie in the sky when you die” kind of theology. While it is true that till the coming of Jesus projection into the future alone made sense, after his coming what must spur us on is not only the future but the present and all that it offers.
This is why it is understandable that Zephaniah, writing probably around 640-609 BCE, promised that God would preserve a remnant, To this humble remnant or anawim belongs the promise of a secure future: “They shall pasture and lie down, and none shall make them afraid” (3:13). This oracle announced the future realization of an ideal.
However, in the case of Matthew, who is writing after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the “secure future” of Zephaniah is first present in the person of Jesus in a unique way, and secondly is also in the future. This means that the beatitudes that Jesus pronounces at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount do not merely describe something that already is, but also bring into being the reality they declare. They are a declaration of who disciples are already and who they must continue to be.
The Sermon on the Mount begins with the nine beatitudes. Called “blessed”, are the poor in spirit who have surrendered self-will and self-reliance and every other base of security to welcome the reign of God. Also “blessed” are those who are gentle, mourners and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness or justice. These are basic dispositions of the believer who accepts his needs before God and his openness to receiving his gifts.
The second group of four which speak of the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers and those persecuted in the cause of justice seem to reflect the attitude of humans to each other. These identify with Jesus in his person and mission.
In what many consider as the ninth beatitude, Jesus speaks to the disciples directly. These are blessed even in the abuse and persecution that they will encounter because of their association with Jesus.
The key feature of blessedness is that it involves living a deliberately chosen and cultivated sort of life, which does not get involved in the power and violence of the world, and which, because of this fact, makes the ones living it immensely vulnerable to being turned into victims. That is the centre of the ethic as taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
If we then turn to the end of the Eschatological Discourse – Jesus’ last discourse (Mt 25:31-46) before his passion, we find something similar at work. In the famous passage of the last judgement, the judgement is defined not in terms of belonging to this or that group, or believing this or that dogma. The judgement is presented in terms of the human relationships towards victims – those who hunger, thirst, the naked, sick, or imprisoned. Those who are rewarded are those – whether or not they know anything of the world which is blind to its victims, and have reached out to help them. It is here, the crucified and risen victim who is the judge of the world, and the world is judged in the light of its relationship to the crucified and risen victim.
For Matthew the arrival of Jesus and his proclamation of God’s kingdom create the conditions by which the world can be changed. The promise to the poor in spirit and those who are persecuted for justice, that the kingdom of heaven is “yours,” might better be translated as “on your side” or “for you.” The dispositions and action praised by Jesus provide an alternate vision to contemporary, destructive attitudes and trends.
The beatitudes generate trust in God in difficult circumstances, not simply enable us to endure hard times. None of us can avoid the traumatic experiences that life so frequently presents. In Africa and Asia millions of our fellow human beings suffer disease, poverty and the effects of war and natural disasters that some of us have never experienced or even imagined. The challenge of Christian faith is to accept and live a sustaining relationship with God in the most trying circumstances.
The beatitudes define the way that Jesus himself lived to the point of death as a rejected religious evolutionary and unjustly condemned criminal. The spiritual power to live the life of the blessed comes not through our most noble human efforts, but through the gift of grace that the Spirit gives us. Paul realized this when he said that God those the foolish and weak of this world to shame the wise and the strong, Are Jesus’ praises and Paul’s declarations really too much for us to believe?