Updated: Feb 1
(Begin by reading the Gospel. Better yet, ask someone to read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
The most incredible thing about Jesus is that by dying on the cross he defeats death. God fills him with abundant, eternal life—he can never die again. God turns everything we know upside-down. Life is stronger than death.
Does Jesus spend his whole life waiting to die and rise again? Of course not. He spends his adult life telling all he knows about the Kingdom of God. Now Jesus enjoys the fullness of the life of God, but the Kingdom of God is not yet complete. God's plan is not finished. There is work to be done. In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus begins his ministry on earth by telling us what he knows about working for the Kingdom.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them
Whenever we hear about people going up a mountain in the Bible, we know there will be an encounter with God. St. Matthew is telling us in his own special way who Jesus is. The disciples sit down to learn what Jesus knows.
Jesus shares eight Beatitudes, eight ways to experience the Kingdom of God. Each way begins with the word "blessed," which is another way to say "happy." Each way of happiness turns what we know upside-down. God's way is not our way.
Eight is an interesting number. In the Bible, seven is the number that means perfection. So why does Jesus share eight beatitudes?
God creates the world in six days. On the seventh day, God creates sacred time—time for God. The church thinks of the eighth day as eternity—the fullness of time, the day of Resurrection, the Kingdom complete. Our Baptismal fonts have eight sides—one side each for Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and the last side for the eighth day: eternity, the fullness of the Kingdom. If we practice one Beatitude for each day of the week, will we be led into the fullness of the Kingdom of God?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
What can Jesus mean? Someone who is spiritless is someone who has no energy. Is this what God wants? Or, does God turn what we think upside-down? Perhaps instead, someone who is poor in spirit gets filled with the energy of God—filled with the Holy Spirit—for theirs is the Kingdom of God. So how can we practice being poor in spirit? On Sunday, we can pray to replace our spirit with God's:
Then how will we experience the Kingdom that is ours?
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Okay, this seems just ridiculous. How can someone who mourns be happy? What does Jesus know?
Someone who mourns has lost someone or something they love. For them, love is broken. We know that God mourns when we break love—when we sin. On Monday, we can think about how we have broken love, and mourn. We can say we are sorry. We can ask for forgiveness. Jesus says we will be comforted. How will we experience the comfort of the Kingdom?
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
We think of people who are meek as lifeless, as spineless, as people that other people walk all over. Is Jesus saying we are happy when we are doormats? Powerful people get what they want. How can the meek inherit the earth?
But the word that St. Matthew writes here is praus. A lion is praus when it holds back its power to hurt and to kill—when it is gentle instead. Lions do not do that. God turns the world upside-down. How will we experience the Kingdom of God when, on Tuesday, we choose to be gentle instead of using power to put people down?
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
We hunger and thirst for what we need. Jesus knows that we need righteousness. We need what is good. We need what is holy. The world needs justice. How can we work for justice on Wednesday? We know we will be happy, but how will we be filled?
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
God is mercy. God is that free gift of forgiveness to someone who does not deserve it. On Thursday, we can participate in the mercy of God. We will be happy when we offer forgiveness to someone who has hurt or offended us. How will we experience the mercy of God ourselves?
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
On Friday, we will place in our heart only that which is good. We will be on the watch for things in our life, choices that we make, that are not good, and we will turn from them. We will let God turn our choices upside-down. We wonder, how will we see God on Friday?
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
On Saturday we will work to make peace—in our homes and in our schools. We will look for ways to speak without shouting, for opportunities to offer kind words when people are fighting, for ways—not to win arguments—but to end them. By our Baptism, we already are children of God. On Saturday, we will act like it. We will be truly happy.
And then, will we enter the fullness of time? What will that be like?
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
Hang on—what? Maybe the eight Beatitudes do not lead us into the fullness of God.
But Jesus insists. He is talking to us:
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
What is all this about persecution?
When we follow these Beatitudes, when we allow God to make us happy by turning our world upside-down, we experience the Kingdom right now, just as Jesus promises. But at the same time, the evil in the world fights back. Evil is threatened by our goodness. Jesus knows.
But he says,
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
When we are made fun of, when people think we are weird because we pray and go to Mass, when people are unkind to us because we are Christians, Jesus says we must rejoice. Our lives witness to the upside-down Kingdom of God. We have become prophets.
Can we do this? Is it not too difficult, too scary, too much? By the time we get to Saturday, will we not have forgotten our poor-in-spirit prayer of Sunday? None of us can do the Beatitudes alone. Only Jesus can do that. But together, all of us, if we keep trying, will we not get close? Jesus invites us to try. We are not alone.
And our reward, Jesus says, is great in heaven.
Not "will be."
Our reward is great in God.