The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7) begins with “The Beatitudes” (5.1-12). “Beatitude” comes from the Latin word Beatus, meaning “blessed.”
For many, the Beatitudes are about how we can be blessed; about what we must do if we are to be blessed. So, we think: If we want the kingdom of heaven, then we should be poor in spirit; if we want to be comforted, then we should mourn; if we want to inherit the earth, then we must be meek and humble; if we want to be satisfied, then we should hunger and thirst for righteousness; if want to receive mercy, then we must be merciful; if we want to see God, then we must be pure in heart; if we want to be called children of God, then we must be peacemakers.
But is this really the case? No.
In reality, the Beatitudes are not telling us to do anything. The beatitudes are merely describing our human state and situation in general, and how the coming of Christ makes a difference to our states of existence.
Jesus is saying that we who are poor in our spirits are now blessed and can find our share in the kingdom of heaven because Jesus has come.
We who have been mourning in life because of life’s sorrows and shames can now be comforted because Jesus has come.
We who often have no share or inheritance in life’s resources and wealth can now be considered to be the most wealthy and fortunate on earth because we can have Jesus.
We who continually and miserably fail to live up to the standards of righteousness can now be filled with the righteousness of God.
We who are merciful to others, but are ourselves in need of mercy and forgiveness, can now receive the mercy of God.
We who deeply long to see purity in life and the world can see and know the purest of purities – the beauty of God’s own face – because Jesus has come.
We who work and strive for peace in the world, often caught in the middle between conflicting groups, misunderstood and mislabelled by both sides, without an identity we can truly call our own, can now have an identity that is given by God himself – we can now be called the children of God.
Once we were not blessed; now we are blessed – Jesus has come and we have received him!
Having received Jesus and the blessedness that he brings, Jesus likens Christians to two things – salt and light. Well, what does salt do and what is it used for? And what is the nature of light? Salt is used, first of all, for seasoning. Without salt, food is bland and tasteless. Similarly, through our lives, we are to add taste and flavour to an otherwise bland and flavourless world. Salt is also used as a preservative to keep things from decaying. So also, Christians are kept and sent by God into the world to slow down and arrest it from decaying and rotting. Intake of salt also makes people thirsty. In the same way, when people come into contact with us, we are to make them thirst for the living waters of God Himself.
To be compared to light is also significant. Like light, we are to make the reality of God and the reality of the world itself visible to a blinded people in a dark world. We are to brighten the corners we may ourselves be in and show others the Way.
Comparing us to light, not sound, also means that the light of our works travels faster than the sound of our words. Jesus, remember, said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works.” He did not say, “Let your sound rumble before others, so that they may hear your good words.”
Another spectacular feature of light is, when a white ray of light passes through a triangular prism, it disperses into a multi-coloured spectrum. Similarly, when our life passes through the prism of the Triune God, it disperses into an unimaginable kaleidoscope of colours that adds an unimaginable spectrum of beauty in a colourless world.
Jesus then elaborates how this looks in real life situations. What Jesus says in Matthew 5:21-48 are not “rules” that his followers should keep religiously and legalistically; rather, they are illustrations and examples from real life situations of the kind of people that his followers are to be.
With regard to murder (vv.21-25), Jesus’s point is that murder is the fruit whose root is anger; murder is the symptom whose disease is anger. And so, the most effective way of dealing with this greatest of evil is not simply by addressing it directly, but by addressing it deeply – not just dealing with the hand that wields the weapon of murder, but dealing with the heart that breeds the ailment of anger.
Jesus similarly talks about adultery (vv.27-30), and traces its roots to the deepest level. For Jesus, adultery is but a symptom of a greater disease of the lustful heart and the wandering eyes.
Next, Jesus talks about divorce (vv.31-32). His point is that the certificate of divorce which the Old Testament law permitted, was just that – a permission; it was a permission for divorce, not an endorsement or encouragement of divorce.
Jesus also says that his followers should be such people of integrity, and known as such people, that the taking of oaths would itself be completely unnecessary. They are to be such people whose “Yes” is yes and whose “No” is no.
Jesus then finally talks about retaliation quoting from the Old Testament law, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” We must remember that what Moses gave in the Old Testament was a principle of justice – the proportionality of justice. Moses was not setting a standard, but a limit: at most, it must be eye for an eye, not eyes for an eye; a tooth for a tooth, not teeth for a tooth. Jesus was thus not contradicting Moses’s Law, but drawing attention to its inner logic, which Jesus fulfils in his ministry and life – the ideal of loving our enemies.
END PART 1