When Jesus saw the crowds he went up into a mountain and sat down. Then his disciples came to him. He opened his mouth and taught them, in these words:

Good fortune to the destitute and crushed! Theirs is the Rule of Heaven.

Good fortune to those who grieve! They shall be comforted.

Good fortune to the gentle ones! They shall possess the land.

Good fortune to those who hunger and thirst for justice! They shall be fed.

Good fortune to the merciful! They shall receive mercy.

Good fortune to the clean in heart! They shall see God.

Good fortune to the makers of peace! They shall be called children of God.

Good fortune to those persecuted for the cause of justice! The Rule of Heaven is theirs.

Good fortune to you, when people insult you and bully you and say all sorts of bad things about you, falsely, on account of me! Be glad and jump for joy because your reward in heaven is large, since in the same way they bullied the prophets who lived before you.

Jesus, like Israel through the Red sea, has come through the water of John the Dipper, to be tested, like Israel, in the desert. Now, like Moses he ascends a mountain to deliver the law to the people. His “law” like the Torah of Israel, begins with blessings. Israel was set free from slavery, now the Rule of Heaven will bring God’s goodness to those who most need it. Those who talk about original sin should take account of original blessing in both sections of the Bible.

It is called a mountain but does not function as such; more like a convenient elevation from which Jesus, seated like a teacher, may instruct his disciples and the crowd. Thenphrase “he opened his mouth” is meant to emphasise that this is not a casual conversation but a serious act of communication.

Each verse begins with the Greek “makarios” which is not necessarily a religious word. If we translate “ blessed” we will mean it in the secular sense of benefitted or advantaged. The speaker announces an access of good fortune to those who are named.

1. The Greek “ptochoi” should not be translated “poor” but rather “destitute”. When we do this, it seems better to think of the ‘in spirit” as part of their destitution, meaning “crushed, oppressed, downtrodden.” The Rule of Heaven, unlike the rule of the world attends to the needs of the least important.

2. The grief here should not be understood as personal bereavement but rather as sorrow over the condition of the world or perhaps of Israel or of their own destitution. Grief or mourning over evil is met with the promise of the Rule of Heaven whose goodness will transform the world, and comfort those who grieve.

3. Inheriting or possessing the land is traditionally the promise of possessing the land of Israel. In the Torah those who obey the Law will possess the land. Joshua and his men possessed the land by violence. Here Jesus teaches that the true inheritors, who will possess it under the Rule of heaven, will be the non -violent, the gentle ones whose worth is often overlooked.

4. To hunger and thirst for justice is a passionate commitment to the order brought about by God the Creator, who puts everything in its place. People whose lives are starved without justice will be fed by the Rule of Heaven.

5. Mercy refers to the cancelling of debt, as in the Prayer of Jesus and the parable of the unforgiving slave. It is a love which cares for the needy and may even include one’s enemy. In the Rule of God, the merciful will find that their own debts to God have been cancelled.

6. The clean in heart are those who have not defiled their souls with idolatry of any kind. It does not have the puritan sense of purity which is mainly to do with sexual matters. The KJV of Psalm 24 defines it as “who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity” – vanity being code for idols. (Of course in our own time we could say that sex itself has become an idol, and as such pollutes a person’s heart.) Because the clean of heart are focused on God, they will perceive his presence in the Rule of Heaven.

7. The royal theology of Israel saw the king as the maker and guarantor of peace, that is of Hebrew “shalom” which is not the mere absence of conflict, but health, well-being, soundness also. The Pharisaic movement democratised this concept, urging every true Jew to be a maker of peace. Jesus, aware that it is God who creates peace – Be still and know that I am God- sees the human peace maker as a child of God.

8. This becomes truly paradoxical. How can the persecuted person be fortunate? They suffer with God and they share the splendour of his Rule, as St Paul says. Their identification with God is rewarded by God’s identification with them.

9. This is the only blessing in Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes that is addressed to second person, you, here meaning the disciples of Jesus. It perhaps is a special invention of Matthew, applying the Lord’s blessing to the circumstances of his own community which was in serious controversy with their fellow Jews.

Those to whom Jesus announces good fortune live in the midst of the world’s injustice; yet as the Rule of God dawns in Jesus’ ministry, they can trust him and believe the glad news. Even now, they can live with joy.

But there is a sense in which God does nothing, does not intervene to stop the injustice of cruel people. The Rule of God happens, if it happens at all, in the actions of Jesus and the people of the Beatitudes. They have good fortune because the Rule of God begins with them!

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