The Beatitudes of St. Matthew’s Gospel are among the best known and favored verses in Sacred Scripture, appreciated over the centuries by all religious traditions. They form the preamble to the revered Sermon on the Mount. They offer a prayerful glimpse of heaven on earth, for they present us with a verbal portrait of the Word made flesh, Jesus Himself. To sample only the first three Beatitudes and their resonance in the life of Jesus:
Blessed are the poor in spirit … The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head.
Blessed are the sorrowful … Jesus wept.
Blessed are the meek … Learn from me, for I am meek and humble
The Beatitudes offer hope to people confronted, surrounded and otherwise overwhelmed – in Jesus’ time no less than ours – by secular values of power, selfishness and pride. Such sure hope is possible and available to those to whom the Beatitudes’ blessings are promised to those who live trusting in the providence and power of God which we call grace. Coming as they do in Matthew after the call of his first disciples, the Beatitudes are Christ’s invitation to them and to us to “Follow me.”
Much more than a list of do’s and don’t’s, too often the soul of a brittle faith, Christianity is a constant striving to know and image the perfection of Christ. This side of heaven we will not experience the perfection which the Beatitudes promise, but with their help we will begin to appreciate the infinite riches of God in Jesus Christ.
Without the strength and inspiration that only Jesus can give us, the Beatitudes are unrealistic, unattainable. That’s why they must be more than read. They must be prayerfully pondered, calling upon the Holy Spirit to bring them alive in our hearts – to bring Christ alive within us.