The gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time is the famous passage of the Beatitudes from Matthew (the gospel we read in the Lectionary’s cycle A.) It is the first section of the Sermon on the Mount. Excerpts of the Sermon will be read at Mass from this weekend up until Lent. It is Jesus’ teaching on discipleship.
Jesus goes up the mountain, the way Moses went up the mountain of Sinai and received the tablets of the Law (Exodus 24:15.) Matthew has thrown a clue for us to realize that Jesus is doing what Moses did and is giving us a new law, the Beatitudes.
The Commandments are mainly passive rules, prohibitions, “do nots” whereas the Beatitudes are active laws, “do’s.” The Commandments were given to a primitive people, wandering shepherds, and its main purpose was to keep the peace in the collective. Jesus is not telling us to break the Commandments, but fulfilling them is not enough for those who want to be his disciples. I can sit on a chair the whole day, I would not break a single Commandment, but I would really not be a good disciple of Jesus. Fulfilling the Commandments produces decent citizens; living according to the Beatitudes produces saints.
However, the teaching of the Beatitudes has not permeated enough. We are still often Christians of the Commandments. People often come to confession and go through the Ten Commandments—with a great sight of relief from the confessor when we are told the person has not killed anybody. Can you imagine what a confession based on the Beatitudes would look like?
We have the four more Sundays to continue reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes, with specific examples Jesus will give on what a disciple of his needs to do. For now, we review the list of the Beatitudes—in an attempt to write them in “commandment” language and offering a bit of an explanation when need it:
- Be poor in Spirit: poor in self-centeredness and in our tendency to accumulate.
- Mourn with those who mourn: be compassionate, make the suffering of others yours.
- Be meek: as open and disposed to accepting the will of God.
- Be hungry and thirsty for Justice.
- Be merciful.
- Be clean of heart: be clear, transparent, solid.
- Be a peacemaker.
- Accept persecution: accept the unpopularity of those who stand up for Justice.
The Beatitudes are also a promise. Jesus tells us in this gospel what will happen if we live according to the Beatitudes: we will see God; we will experience the Kingdom; we will be called Children of God; we will inherit the land, we will be comforted, and the measure of our mercy will be measured on our own sins. Scholars would point that the “Blessed are” used in this translation could also be translated as “Happy are.” On top of everything else, Jesus is telling us that living the Beatitudes is not a painful sacrifice, but something that will makes us happy–just in case seeing God was not enough (wink added.)