Jesus' mission statement, heard last Sunday says: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Today marks the announcement of His vision for the kingdom. Unlike the commandments of old that carried prohibitions, He issues benedictions. In place of “Thou shall not” we hear “You shall be blessed.” The Eight Beatitudes form a litany of blessings spoken by our Lord from an exalted position. Just as the law that issued prohibitions came from the mountain, the beatitudes, (also called “Sermon on the Mount”) are addressed from the mountain: both evoking distinctive arrays of exaltation. The new vision, however, arose not as a correction for disorderly conduct; rather, it carries a message embedded in God’s love and the responsibility to which He calls the new people of the new covenant. The beatitudes teach that through Christ we gain fullness of blessing for conditions that fall often out of sync with worldly paradigms and appeal.
- 1. It has to be nerve-racking to hear Jesus contradict the assumption that wealth is allied to divine blessings (Psalm 112:3) or that poverty is a sign of divine retribution. But Jesus speaks about the “anawim” or the poor in spirit; which in the Hebrew sense implies those so overwhelmed by want that they absolutely depend upon God. In this sense, both Zacchaeus and the Canaanite woman who begged for her daughter’s healing (Matthew 15:22) are counted among the anawim. You who trustingly depend upon God for your help and salvation are the anawin, regardless of your socio-economic status.
- When your mourning and tears stream from a broken heart that seeks God’s justice, mercy and forgiveness, the Lord will surely comfort you. Selfish tantrums for not having one’s way may rend the heart but will attract no blessings.
- The meek who will inherit the land of promise are the humble, patient, long-suffering, intentional disciples and Catholics. The vicious, self-righteous, blistering and plundering individuals who arrogantly think themselves the center of the universe will have the grave as their only inheritance.
- Does your heart go out to others in goodness, kindness and empathy? Your satisfaction will be like an overflowing stream. On the contrary, life for those who crawl back to blatant narcissism, cruelty, rudeness and willful ignorance shall be like muddy, swampy water infested with vermin of all kinds.
- Mercy is an attribute of God and those who live by this divine attribute will experience its reciprocal effect: they shall obtain mercy in return. The merciless will reap fierce judgment for themselves and their deeds.
- The pure in heart who seek God with undivided allegiance will gain an inner vision of the face of God. The depraved who let their hearts to be caroused by debauchery and practice every abominable act will grope in eternal darkness.
- The peacemakers who seek harmony with themselves, others, their environment and God share in the mission of the Father to reconcile the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19), and are rightly children of God. Conversely, those who cause division, discord and hatred among people are also children of their own father—the devil, whose essence is division.
- Persecution and social ostracism that the believer suffers in the world on account of the faith and righteous living are stamps, visas and passports to heaven. Those who lash out, blackmail, gossip, plot and damage other’s names and reputation have signed their deportation orders from the reign of God.
Finally, Jesus emphasized the eschatological nature of the beatitudes and personalizes it when he turns from “blessed are those” to say “blessed are you,” and asks you to rejoice and be glad over any affliction you suffer in his name, because you’ll not fail to receive your reward.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo