WHEN Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peace-makers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
In the late 7th century BCE when Babylon posed a huge threat against Judah, the prophet Zephaniah prophesied doom on Judah. The proud and arrogant nation will be vanquished yet God would remain faithful to his Covenant by allowing “a humble and lowly people” to be left behind. God took a predilection on this remnant group also known as the anawim. These poor people became special to God because they recognized their need for him. The anawim was not defined merely as a socio-economic class but were characterized by their interior disposition of lowliness and utter dependence on God.
In his public ministry, Jesus gathered disciples around himself whom he will teach the way of lowliness and dependence on God. On that hill where Jesus sat and took the posture of the Divine Master, he startled everyone by speaking of blessedness in a new and radical way, definitely different and far removed from the idea of “blessedness” that every Jew always held. Normally, a Jew is considered “blessed” because he is descended from Abraham, if one observes the Law, if one pays tithes, keeps the Sabbath, and avoids contact with the unclean. Jesus shocked his listeners because he spoke of “blessedness” without mentioning any of these time-honored Jewish traits and practices. He did not include in his list of blessedness everything that a proud Jew brags about.
Jesus instructs his disciples by proposing to them the journey of downward movement. Instead of boasting about one’s pedigree or about one’s achievements in following God, Jesus directs his disciples to look into their interior disposition. What is their attitude? And from their set of attitudes would flow their action. Clearly enough, with the eight beatitudes that Jesus proposes to his disciples he is teaching them to get rid of arrogant and proud behavior and notions of self-entitlement simply because they belong to the Chosen People. The disciples ought to be guided not by selfish pride and ambition but by poverty of spirit.
In northern Israel, one finds on top of a hill the so-called Mount of Beatitudes. The church, built in an octagonal design, with eight windows representing each beatitude that Jesus preached to his disciples. The location of the church provides a breathtaking view of the surrounding city and the Sea of Galilee.
When Jesus descends the mountain together with his disciples, they keep with them the important lesson of the Beatitudes and let this grow on them. In pursuing their mission to be fishers of men, they build on their poverty of spirit. They would learn to be gentle, to mourn, to hunger and thirst for what is right, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers, and to rejoice when they are persecuted and slandered.
Three years will be the timetable prepared for the disciples by the Divine Master. In the meantime, they will learn from him by his life and example. Later on, more learning will follow when the Master offers his life on the cross and lives beyond death.
– Fr. Paul J. Marquez, SSP
– (Jan. 29, 2017)