Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
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 be shown 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 because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Jesus was a teacher. That was Matthew’s understanding of Jesus. Jesus lived his life teaching others. He didn’t just give out information. That’s how we usually understand teaching. He helped people see the truth of what they already knew. That’s what good teaching is. He opened their eyes and minds in new ways. He showed them who God really is and what life is really about. He knew the Jewish law and tradition very well. In that sense, Jesus was a great teacher.
With today’s passage, Jesus started his teaching ministry. He began a teaching series called ‘Sermon on the Mount’. One by one, he goes through a variety of topics and teaches the crowd how to live a good life as God called them to live. He challenges their assumptions and reveals new truths.
Jesus begins with a teaching on what is a blessed life. He shows us the key to living a blessed life.
What would you say a ‘blessed’ life consists of? Having fun? Getting good grades? Going to a well-known university? Having a boyfriend or a girlfriend? Getting lots of followers and likes? Making lots of money and living comfortably?
I wouldn’t disagree. Those are things that can help us enjoy life. If you had all those things at once, you’d say you’re blessed.
But when you look at Jesus’ teaching, you find none of those things. His understanding of what it means to live a blessed life is completely different from what we think. It’s almost shocking.
What does he say? People who are ‘poor in spirit’ are blessed. People who ‘mourn’ are blessed. People who are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are merciful, who are pure in heart, who are peacemakers, and who are persecuted—Jesus says they are the blessed. How so?? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. That sounds like a recipe for unhappy life, not blessed.
Instead of jumping to conclusions, let’s think carefully about what Jesus is saying here. Don’t just stop at the words. Look beneath them. What is he trying to say? For Jesus, living a blessed life is very much connected with doing what is RIGHT.
‘Doing what is right’ – it’s something we all agree with. It’s important to do what is right, in any situation. But doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Because what is right can sometimes be unpopular. In that sense, doing what is right doesn’t always lead to an easy life. But Jesus teaches us that it leads to a blessed life.
More often than not, we don’t choose to do what is right. Instead, we choose to do what is ‘cool’ and ‘acceptable’. We do what is ‘logical’ and ‘convenient’. We choose what is ‘easy’. We avoid anything that’s difficult, hard or inconvenient, even if we know that they are good. We care more about being seen well by other people than staying true to our beliefs, values and convictions. We are willing to sacrifice our character as long as what we do gets people’s attention, approval and acceptance. But what did Jesus say?
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?Matthew 16:26
Gaining the whole world may feel good in that moment. But as soon as that moment passes, you feel totally empty. You feel like you let yourself down. You feel overcome with regrets. On the outside, you may look blessed to others—but are you really though?
Those whom Jesus calls blessed in today’s passage are people who focus on doing what is right. Instead of choosing power and popularity, they choose humility and gentleness. Instead of choosing anger, violence and retaliation, they choose forgiveness and peace. Instead of choosing the way of the world, they choose God’s way.
None of those choices lead to what you’d call a glamorous life. You may experience difficulties and loneliness. You may not see any change you hoped to see. You may feel helpless and discouraged at times. Prophets went through that. Jesus went through that. Great figures in history, past and present, who stood up for what is right, experienced that. None of them had an easy and comfortable life. None of them were popular or well-accepted while they lived. But one thing we can say about them is – they were blessed. They also blessed others through the life they lived. Don’t you want to live that kind of life?
Don’t just focus on what benefits you, here and now. Focus on doing what is right, even when it’s hard. When I say what is ‘good’ or ‘right’, I’m not referring to one thing we must do in all situations. I’m not talking about being self-righteous either. I’m referring to what is connected to God’s will. That’s why St. Paul reminded us—
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.Romans 12:2
God sees what you do. God will give you the courage and strength to do what is right. God will fight for you. God will bless you. Jesus said—
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…Matthew 5:11, 12
Jesus taught us this wonderful truth. I’m thankful that we have a teacher like Jesus. But he didn’t teach it to us so that we can just agree with him in principle. He taught it to us so that we can start living a blessed life. It’s interesting that right after today’s passage, Jesus teaches that we are the light of the world.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.Matthew 5:16
I pray that you walk this path courageously and faithfully, with God’s help.
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