When we hear the eight beatitudes that begin the Gospel of Matthew’s sermon on the mount in chapter 5, we can easily drift into very well-known territory. Every Christian is very familiar with these sayings, and this gospel or one of its many sung forms is used at weddings and funerals, graduations and dedications. Some dear soul has embroidered the text of the 12 verses and they are placed in our church next to a similar frame containing the ten commandments. But these blessings that accompany our remembrance of this day of all the saints are not new Christian commandments. These declarations are only good news for us if we realise that a beatitude is a statement that declares that certain people are fortunate, or are privileged, or are simply in a great place – because God’s future kingdom is beginning to break into our present reality now.
Beatitudes are unconditional. They do not simply describe something that you hope will one day be true. They do not take the form of ‘if you will do x, then y will happen’ but unconditionally declare that those who are x will be y. In this sense, a beatitude is a prophetic declaration, because it effects what it says and brings into being what it states. So they are nothing like mere laws, because to declare a beatitude is to announce the gospel.
For the beatitudes to be true depends on the truthfulness and authority of the speaker. In this case the speaker is no mere prophet, but our Lord and Saviour himself, and it is on his authority that the church can continue to proclaim and declare the blessedness of anyone who finds themselves already to be poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for justice, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers or being persecuted because of righteousness.
The declarations that accompany these beatitudes do not make much sense according to simple human wisdom. Rather they pronounce blessing on any authentic disciples who are living in Christian community. As such, these beatitudes do not apply to eight distinct groups of good people or individuals who will be going to heaven, but to the whole group of Christians together in the church who are striving and struggling to be authentic disciples and indeed saints.
Happy feast day.
Grace and peace.
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