A blessed life – Monday, 10th Week in ordinary time -2 Corinthians 1:1-7/ Matthew 5:1-12
Matthew’s gospel, which is taken up in the liturgy of the daily Eucharist from today onwards, is often referred to as the teaching Gospel for it contains five great discourses into which Matthew has gathered so much of his teaching material.
Writing to a Judeo- Christian audience sometime between 75- 90 AD the Gospel has strong overtones of a ‘family feud’. In 80 AD, the Rabbis of Jamnia had placed the Christians outside the community of Judaism. The ‘birkat hamminim,’ a curse pronounced on heretics and which included the Christians, set the Christians community firmly outside the boundaries of Judaism, something that the community of St Matthew will contest.
If Michelangelo had the ‘last judgment’ as his ‘pièce de résistance’ then this was Matthew’s masterpiece. St Matthew brilliantly weaves the teachings of Jesus in this opening discourse setting down the mind of the master. At its heart is the theme of justice and the kingdom of God. He grips the reader with the unadulterated teaching on the kingdom leaving the reader wondering; how can values such as meekness and poverty, mourning and hunger bring one happiness?
Jesus begins the discourse with the wonderful words of the Beatitudes. There are eight of them, each one beginning with the words, “Happy are those…” ‘Happy’ is a translation of the Greek adjective makarios which includes not only the idea of happiness, but also of good fortune, of being specially blessed. So, we can translate it as “Blessed indeed are those…” or “Fortunate indeed are those…” It is important to realise that being a follower of Christ is intended to be a source of deep happiness and a realisation that one is truly fortunate to have discovered this vision of life.
The beatitudes are not some pious hopes, a ‘pie in the sky when you die’ but a ‘congratulations. It is recognition of an existing state of happiness that the disciple chooses to freely live. While the virtues they purport may seem to be ‘out of style’ and ‘out of step’ they are indeed the way a disciple is to walk as sign to the world.
The beatitudes are not a list of ‘thou shalt not’s’. The list we find here is in the indicative mood, not the imperative. It is description, not prescription. However, in following them we find the ‘blessings’ of being a citizen of the kingdom of God. Though the description of the kingdom sounds bleak; the take away for those who have lived it. is an experience of ‘authentic happiness’.
What the world sees as tragic or empty, Jesus sees as blessed: humility, mourning, gentleness, peacefulness and other virtues. Jesus lived by these qualities himself and we can notice them in his words and actions during his life with us on earth. He could encourage us to live in the spirit of the Beatitudes because he himself lived them and knew that a life of integrity and honesty is indeed a blessed life.