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  • Writer's pictureRev. Sammie Maxwell

“Sermon on the Mount:Important Things to Know About the Beatitudes”

COTC “Sermon on the Mount” Mt.5:1-12

Beatitudes were common expressions in Jesus’s day, not

only in religious circles, but also in everyday life. The beatitudes

were ordinary sayings about the common events of Life, listing

all kinds of virtuous qualities. For example, Blessed are the

wise, for they shall never be called foolish. Blessed are the

strong, for no one will ever want to fight with them.

Neither Jesus nor Matthew invented the beatitude form.

Beatitudes occurred in the Old Testament, particularly in the

wisdom writings and the prophets, and also other Jewish

literature. Although the formula itself was not new, what was

new and shocking about Jesus’ list was the content. Blessed are

the poor in spirit; those who mourn; the meek; those who

hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful; pure in heart;

the peacemakers; the persecuted and reviled.

If we didn’t already know but were asked to guess the kind

of person Jesus would pick out for such special recognition or

commendation we might guess some sort of spiritual

hero—someone with impeccable credentials morally and

spiritually. Of course, we’d be wrong. Maybe Jesus didn’t pick

those people because he know they didn’t need the recognition

of a shot in the arm or his commendation. In any case, it is

worth taking a look at the ones Jesus did pick.

Jesus picked not the spiritual giants but “the poor in

spirit”; the ones who spiritually speaking have absolutely

nothing to give and everything to receive; the ones who learn

the hard way, like the prodigal son.

Jesus picked not the champions of faith who can rejoice

even in the midst of suffering, but the ones who mourn in the

midst of hard times--their own suffering and the sufferings of


Jesus picked not the strong ones but the meek ones in the

sense of the gentle ones, like Mother Teresa who says she

cannot do great things, but only do small things with great love.

Or the Charlie Chaplin type, whom the world seems to mistreat

and still he goes away laughing and leaving us laughing and

believing that when the world walks over us, we too can walk

away laughing.

Jesus picked not the ones who are righteous but the ones

who hope they will be someday, and in the meantime are well

aware that the distance they still have to go is even greater

than the distance they’ve come.

Jesus picked not the totally pure, but the pure in heart, the

ones who may have clay feet, but somehow keep some inner

freshness and a little innocence intact.

Jesus picked not the ones who have found peace in its

fullness but the ones who, just for that reason, try to bring

peace about wherever and however they can—peace with their

neighbors and God, peace with themselves.

Jesus saved for last the ones who side with Heaven; they

are blessed when they are worked over and cursed out on

Jesus’ account. It is not Jesus’s hard times to come but theirs

that Jesus is concerned about.

Jesus redefined the Good Life in nine short

sentences—nine portraits of kingdom people. It was as if Jesus

had asked the world to stand on its head when he taught the

Beatitudes. He was turning the known world upside down, or is

it the correct side up? These are the chosen ones who shall see

the face of God. These are the lucky ones, who will be not just

satisfied, but fulfilled. Not because they got an advance copy of

the rules and played by them in order to get their reward—win

the prize—but because winning was the farthest thing from

their minds.

They are the merciful who keep forgiving their enemies so

that their enemies can pounce on them all over again. The

merciful who keep forgiving not as an act or a deed, but as an

attitude: forgiving because that is who they have become now

that they are identified as the blessed of God. Do you know

someone like that? That even before you say you are sorry, you

know (mysteriously) that you are forgiven because they always

carry forgiveness in their heart just in case they bump into

someone who needs a little forgiveness. The pure in heart who

believe the pan-handler really needs their grocery money when

everybody says that the guy begging has $200,000 dollars

stuffed in his mattress. The peacemaker who steps into the

middle of a fight and gets clobbered from both sides like

somebody trying to break up a mad-dog fight. These are like

the beaten up boxer who gives the prize money to his

opponent because the opponent has a sick wife and hungry

kids at home and needs it more. If all of that sounds crazy,

maybe we should go back and say what beatitudes are.

Let’s start with what Beatitudes are not:

--Beatitudes are not law;

--Beatitudes are not commandments;

Not legalisms—not a call to action.

Beatitudes are not a measuring rod. Nor a comprehensive

list of behaviors.

Beatitudes are not entrance requirements for the



TO THE GOOD LIFE—a revelation that the good life cannot be

had by retreating from the world but only by participating in its

sufferings. Not a better life, but the only life worth living. 2)

Beatitudes are snapshots of the community of faith; and the

community of faith is a foretaste of the kingdom and who we

will make room for in the kingdom.3) Beatitudes are a word

(words) of encouragement that helps us to know that in the

present turmoil we can be confident and secure that we are

covered(accompanied), as well as that we are included in the

coming realm as kingdom children. 4) The beatitudes teach us

to already be open to whatever happens; we don’t have to let

the situation determine who we are or what our behavior will

be or can be. Because the qualities are built into our character

so we can deal with whatever comes.

The message of the beatitudes is that we have it within us

to be Christ to each other. We have it in us to work miracles of

love and healing and have love and healing worked upon us.

Because there is no way to be a blessing without being blessed.

The narrative context of Mt. 5:1-12 is that it follows 4:18-

22, Jesus’ calling of his disciples. 5) In this context these

opening verses provide a commissioning that undergirds the

necessary instructions (the rest of the sermon). As Jesus

pronounces God’s blessings, he frames his call to discipleship in

terms of both who they are to be (their character) and its

consequences for their lives in the present context of the world

in which they live as well as God’s future.

Finally, the theological heart of the Beatitudes is the call to

be disciples who live out the virtues of the blessings in pursuit

of righteousness grounded in God’s steadfast love, goodness,

justice, and mercy. AMEN.

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