When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
What to do with this educator’s commentary
This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation. They will help you answer for yourself the question in the last words of the text: ‘what does this mean?’
This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.
Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of the reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.
In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretation and to listen to that of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.
Structure of the commentary:
The world of the author’s community
The world at the time of the text
Geography of the text
Questions for the teacher
Text & textual features
Characters & setting
Ideas / phrases / concepts
Questions for the teacher
Questions for the teacher
Meaning for today / challenges
Church interpretations & usage
The World Behind the Text
See general introduction to Matthew.
The World of the Text
Text and Textual features
e Sermon on the Mount.
The Beatitudes were most likely a collection of sayings from Jesus; by placing them together in one sermon, with the setting of a mountain, Matthew elevates these important messages to a higher status.
The sermon consists of 24 ‘lessons’, many of which are very well known now: The Beatitudes, Salt and Light (which reminds us not to hide our light under a bushel), Loving our enemies, the practices of Lent (almsgiving, fasting and prayer), not storing up treasures on earth where moths might eat them, not serving two masters, not worrying about food and clothing, and perhaps the best known of all, doing to others what you would have them do unto you – the Golden Rule. Many of these lessons have become enshrined in beliefs, practices and rituals more widely within society.
The Beatitudes begin the sermon on the Mount.
Written using a very Jewish literary device and for a Jewish audience we need to understand the literary form of each beatitude.
Blessing prayers (berakhah) were and are very, very common in Judaism. Berakhot (plural) are recited both as part of the Synagogue service and as a response, or sometimes a prerequisite, to a wide variety of daily occurrences. Berakhot are easy to recognise: they all start with the word barukh (pronounced ‘Ba rook’ meaning ‘blessed’ or ‘praised’). In the Old Testament they appear in the wisdom writing; Psalm 1 is a strong example of a blessing prayer.
Matthew’s blessings deviate from those found in the Old Testament in their expectation of their fulfilment, in the timing of their reward. The assumption of the wisdom books is that the virtue or good actions are rewarded in the present. The NT beatitudes found in Matthew’s Gospel promise fullness of life in God’s Kingdom (Harrington, 1991, Gospel of Matthew, p 82).
The Blessings should, therefore, not be read not as statements of prescription that one should aim for: we are not to feel happy when we are poor in spirit, or persecuted. Rather the beatitudes announce that people experiencing these things will know God’s peace and joy in a future situation – God’s kingdom, God’s era. When we all live with God as our father and our king, the power of God’s fidelity and power will be the blessing that we all know
Byrne, 2004, Lifting the Burden, p 55
The Beatitudes are counter-cultural because the things God considers honourable, and worthy of praise are almost always the opposite of what society values
Characters and Setting
The Beatitudes form the foundation for a sermon that spans Matthew 5-7: the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is central to Matthew’s presentation of Jesus and outlines the way of life that should characterise life in the kingdom of God.
The physical setting of the mountain is used to emphasise the closeness of Jesus to God and to denote the fact that he now has God’s authority. The mountain setting was a deliberate literary tool by Matthew, who was writing primarily for Jewish converts to Christianity. Jesus, however, is more than a new Moses, as Moses received the Torah and then promulgated to Israel what he received. Jesus has unparalleled authority to speak as the Son of God and imparts the sermon with a definitive interpretation of the Torah.
Matthew will note other significant moment occur on a mountain: the transfiguration (Mt 17) and the commissioning of the disciples (Mt 28). The use of mountains, which are symbolic as a place of revelation, emphasises Jesus’ authority from God and his role as a lawgiver for all peoples.
At the start of the Beatitudes Jesus sits – this gesture signifies one who is about to start teaching and highlights the importance of what is about to be said by Jesus. Like Moses on Mt Sinai, Jesus preaches the Beatitudes (the New Law) from a mountain, indicating that Jesus is, on one level, a ‘new Moses’, that is, a new law-giver for Jews and Gentiles alike.
Pope Francis says that Jesus “embodied the Beatitudes” throughout his entire life: all the promises of God’s Kingdom were fulfilled in him.
In common parlance, to say someone is ‘blessed’ is to declare that they are in happy circumstances, fortunate or lucky.
However, Jewish blessings place the emphasis on God: God is blessed. Jewish blessings begin ‘Baruch Ata Adonai’ – meaning Blessed are you, Lord God. We use this form of blessing in the Eucharistic prayer: “Blessed are you Lord God of all creation for through your goodness we have bread…and wine…”
Blessings, whether given or received, help us recognise God in our lives and draw closer to Him. It is not a recognition of riches, rather a humble confession that we are not self-sufficient.
Translations that use “happy” instead of blessed, diminish God as the source of blessing – and that the ‘reward’ peace, joy security, consolation etc, is linked to God’s kingdom among us. In God’s kingdom all will be blessed.
The Kingdom of God/Heaven
The Beatitudes are a roadmap for a journey that takes us to the Kingdom of God. In the Beatitudes, Jesus asks us to travel with him on a path of love that leads to eternal life, promising grace, and salvation. The Kingdom of Heaven is a spiritual realm in which God’s goodness, love, and truth reign. Catholics believe that building the Kingdom of God on earth is an obligation of faith one that we will know more fully after death. Jesus is the Kingdom of God in person: Immanuel – God with us. The Kingdom of God takes root and grows in the human heart. It is both a gift and a promise: given to us by Jesus but yet to be fully realised. That’s why we pray “thy Kingdom come” in the Our Father, another lesson given in the Sermon on the Mount.
Poor in Spirit – to be humble
Kingdom of Heaven – Matthew doesn’t use the phrase Kingdom of God as Jews do not say the term ‘God’, instead saying Adonai, which means Lord. The phrase Kingdom of Heaven means that ideal place in which God will reign as king.
Mourn – to grieve for something or someone. To feel sadness over the loss of something. Most often we think of mourning in the context of death however it is possible to feel sadness for the loss of a home, country, sense of self or friendship.
Meek – meek means not taking advantage of your position. It doesn’t mean weak!
Inherit the earth – to gain the world! Not literally, but to gain everything that matters: love of God.
To hunger and thirst for righteousness – the Hebrew word for ‘righteous’ or ‘righteousness’ can be translated as ‘upright’ or ‘straight’; the opposite of righteousness is to wander off the path and become lost. To hunger and thirst for righteousness implies that you want and need to stay on the right path!
Be Filled – be content; satisfied. Not arrogant, but confident.
Merciful/mercy – to be compassionate/to receive compassion. One of the two attributes (characteristics) of the nature of God. The other one is justice.
Pure in heart – to try to let ‘goodness’ rule your heart and mind
To see God – to know God; to have a sense of God in your life
Peacemaker – someone who seeks peace tries to resolve conflict without aggression or fighting. Genuine peace requires justice for both parties and that peace can come from within, as a sense of contentment or calm.
To be called a child of God – the idea that we are children of God comes from the concept of God as a parent, most often called our father, who cares for us, protects us and nurtures us.
Persecuted for righteousness sake/ Revile and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil – Matthew uses strong language to console his audience who are being persecuted for their beliefs. History will show that faith is often the reason for hatred and fear. It should not be so. Pupils’ knowledge of persecution may be more appropriately expressed as ‘doing the right thing’ even when others tease or ridicule you.
Questions for the teacher:
World in Front of the Text
Questions for the teacher:
Meaning for today/challenges
This text represents a profound challenge in a world dramatically divided between rich and poor, where the wealthiest 5% of the world’s population controls 95% of the world’s wealth and resources. The text is still, therefore, a key Christian text used in the quest for social justice, human rights, and equality. It is a text that can unite Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths because the teachings of the Beatitudes encapsulate the law of all three religions and the obligations of their adherents to follow these laws. So how do we make ‘poverty of spirit’ a way of life? Pope Francis suggests we should live a life without regard to material things, that we should avoid the excesses of consumerism, and instead put Jesus first. Further, we should change the way that we see the poor; we are urged to act in solidarity – to be on the same side as the poor, who have much to teach us about dignity and trust in God.
The Beatitudes express the moral calling of Christians and the challenge of bringing about God’s reign. They are the ultimate goal and end of human activity, highlighting that true happiness is found in God alone and the importance of moral choices and purification of the heart. Pope Francis describes the Beatitudes as “new and revolutionary,” highlighting that the model of happiness presented by Jesus is contrary to what is held important by the media, society, and prevailing wisdom. Indeed, most people around the world would not aspire to the groups that Jesus is glorifying. Hence, the challenge for us today is to follow Jesus and to take seriously his approach to life and how we can attain true joy. Jesus wasn’t afraid to ask the disciples if they truly wanted to follow him or if they would prefer to take another path. Pope Francis emphasises that young people who follow Christ are strong: they don’t need to fulfil themselves with other things, such as status, material possessions, and the like. Young people who have the courage to follow Christ demonstrate bravery in saying ‘no’ and going against the tide. Pope Francis says that we are called to walk a path of holiness and that Jesus Christ can teach us how to become a saint through the Beatitudes, as people of peace and reconciliation.
Pope Francis proposes six modern Beatitudes:
- Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart
- Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalised and show them their closeness
- Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover Him
- Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home
- Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others
- Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.
Church interpretation and usage
This text is used on the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time of Year A.