Lectio Divina

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

The Beatitudes
God thinks in a way diverse from us
Matthew 5, 1-12

1. Opening prayer

Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.

2. Reading

a) Key for reading the text on the Beatitudes:

On this Sunday, the Church invites us to meditate on the eight Beatitudes. Once, seeing the immense crowd who followed him, Jesus went up on the mountain near the Lake of Galilee. Sitting on the top, and looking at the crowds, he made this solemn proclamation: “Blessed are the poor, the afflicted, the humble, those who hunger and thirst for justice, those who struggle in behalf of peace, those who are concerned for the poor, the pure in heart, the persecuted for the cause of justice!” Words of fire which, even today, resound in the world! Throughout two thousand years, they have struck thousands of persons, and they make us think and ask ourselves: “What is happiness? Who is truly happy?”

Some advise: After the reading of the Beatitudes, it is good not to begin immediately to study and to analyze the words of Jesus. In the first place, it is good to keep silence in our heart for a moment and believe that we are in the midst of the people gathered together at the foot of the mountain, near the lake, watching Jesus and listening to his words.

b) A division of the text to help the reading:

Matthew 5, 1: The solemn proclamation of the new Law
Matthew 5, 2-10: The eight doors which permit one to enter the Kingdom of God
Matthew 5, 11-12: Jesus declares Blessed those who are persecuted

c) The text:

Matthew 5, 1-121 Seeing the crowds, he went onto the mountain. And when he was seated his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them: 3 How blessed are the poor in spirit: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 4 Blessed are the gentle: they shall have the earth as inheritance. 5 Blessed are those who mourn: they shall be comforted. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness: they shall have their fill. 7 Blessed are the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart: they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be recognised as children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 11 'Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.

3. A moment of prayerful silence

so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.

4. Some questions

to help us in our personal reflection.

i) Which part of the text struck you the most? Why?
ii) Where, when and for whom does Jesus pronounce this discourse?
iii) Which are the groups of persons whom Jesus declares blessed? Which is the promise for each group?
iv) Do these groups which Jesus speaks about exist today? Who are they and where are they found?
v) How can it be understood that a person can be poor and happy at the same time?
vi) Try to remember two moments in which you truly felt happy in life. Is your opinion of happiness the same as that of Jesus?
vii) What type of happiness do people seek today?

5. A key for reading

For those who wish to deepen into this theme.

a) Context of the discourse of Jesus:

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus appears as the new Legislator, the new Moses. Being the Son he knows the Father. He knows what the Father had in mind when, in the past, he gave the Law to the people through Moses. It is because of this that Jesus is able to offer us a new version of God’s Law. The solemn announcement of this New Law begins here, in the Sermon on the Mountain. In the Old Testament the Law of Moses is represented in five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Imitating the old model, Matthew presents the New Law in five great discourses distributed throughout his Gospel: the Discourse (Sermon) on the Mountain (Mt 5 to 7), The Discourse on the Missions (Mt 10), the Discourse on the Mystery of the Kingdom present in life (Mt 13), the Discourse on the Community (Mt 18), the Discourse on the future of the Kingdom (Mt 24 and 25). But for Matthew the study of the Law alone is not sufficient. It is necessary to observe well the practice of Jesus, because in it the Spirit of God acts, he is who animates the letter of the Law from within. The description of the practice of Jesus occupies the narrative part intermingled among the five Discourses and has the purpose of showing how Jesus observes the Law and incarnates it in his life.

b) Commentary on the text:

Matthew 5, 1: The solemn announcement of the New Law
In the Old Testament, Moses went up to Mount Sinai to receive the Law from God. Jesus also, the new Moses, goes up on the mountain and looking at the crowd who followed him, proclaims the New Law. Up until this moment, there were only four disciples with Jesus (Mt 4, 18-22). But in fact, an immense crowd followed him. Surrounded by disciples, Jesus begins to teach them, proclaiming the Beatitudes.

Matthew 5, 3-10: The eight doors to enter into the Kingdom
The Beatitudes constitute the solemn opening of the Sermon on the Mountain. In it Jesus defines who can enter into the Kingdom. There are eight categories of persons. Eight entrance doors. There is no other door to enter into the Kingdom, in the Community! Those who desire to form part of the Kingdom must identify themselves with one of these categories or groups.

Blessed are the poor in spirit
It is neither the rich nor the poor who has the mentality of the rich. But it is the one who like Jesus lives poor (Mt 8, 18), believes the poor (Mt 11, 25-26) and sees in them the first recipients of the Good News (Lk 4, 18). It is the poor who has the Spirit of Jesus!

Blessed are the peacemakers
It is not the passive person who loses the will and no longer reacts. But they are those who have been “pacified” and now, like Mary, live in “humiliation” (Lk 1, 48). They have lost the land that they possessed, but they will regain it (Ps 37, 7.10-11.22. 29. 34). Like Jesus, they try to be “meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11, 19).

Blessed are those who mourn
It is not a question of just any kind of sadness, but of a sadness in the face of injustice and the lack of humanity which exists in the world (Tb 13, 16; Ps 119, 136; Ez 9, 4; 2 P 2,7). They are sad because they do not accept the situation in which humanity is.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice
It is not only a question of the justice sought for in tribunals and which many times is the legalization of injustice. But it is, above all, the Justice of God, which is sought, doing in such a way that things and persons can occupy the place that belongs to them in the plan of the Creator.

Blessed are the merciful
It is not only philanthropy which distributes alms, but it is a question of imitating God who has entrails of mercy for those who suffer (Es 34, 6-7) Mercy means to have the heart in the misery of others to diminish their pain. It means to do in such a way that the suffering of others is not foreign to us.

Blessed arte the pure in heart
It is not a question of legal purity which only sees the exterior, but it is a question of having a purified gaze to accept the Law of God in the heart which becomes transparent, and allows persons to recognize the calls from God in the events of life and of nature.

Blessed are the peacemakers
It is not only the absence of war. The peace which God wants on earth is the total and radical reconstruction of life, of nature and of communal life or living together. It is the Shalôm, the Peace announced by the prophets and given by Jesus to his disciples (Jn 20, 21).

Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of justice
In the world constructed and organized according to the egoism of persons and groups of persons (like the Neo-liberal system which dominates the world today) the one who desires to live the disinterested love will be persecuted and will die on the cross.

The 1st and the 8th categories (the poor and the persecuted in the cause of justice) receive the same promise of the Kingdom of God. and they receive it now, because Jesus says “the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs!” Between the 1st and 8th categories, there are other six who receive a promise which will be fulfilled in the future. In these six promises there is a new project. It is the project of the Kingdom, which wants to reconstruct life in its totality: in the relation with the material goods, with the persons, and with God. The Christian Community, poor and persecuted, is already a sign of the Kingdom! It is its seed!
(1) The first pair Meek and those who Mourn, refers to the relation to material goods. For the future they expect an equitable sharing of the goods of this world among all.
(2) The second pair Hunger and Thirst for justice and Merciful, refers to the relation between persons and community. For the future they expect the fraternal reconstruction of human living together.
(3) A third pair, Pure in heart and Peacemakers, refers to the relation with God: to see God and to be sons of God. For the future they expect the reconstruction of the relation with God.

The eight Categories
                        The eight Promises
                                               The project of the Kingdom
1. The poor in spirit
                   The Kingdom is theirs
                                               The seed of the Kingdom
2. The meek
3. Those who mourn
                   Will possess the earth
                   Will be consoled
                                               Just sharing of goods
                                               Eliminates inequality
4. Hunger and thirst for justice
5. The merciful
                   Shall have their fill
                   Will receive mercy
                                               Reconstructs the fraternal
                                               and just relationship
6. The pure in heart
7. The peacemakers
                   Will see God
                   Will be sons of God
                                               God is present,
                                               Friendly and faithful Presence
8. Persecuted in the cause of justice
                   The Kingdom is theirs
                                               The seed is crucified

Matthew 5, 11-12: Jesus declares that the persecuted are blessed
He pronounces a word of consolation to the persecuted. At the time of Matthew, around the years 80’s after Christ, this project of reconstruction of life and of living together or community living was about to be assumed by the Christian community, all of them poor and without the sense of expression. This is why they are persecuted. This last word of Jesus confirms the community in the resistance out of love for the Gospel.

c) Broadening our vision on the Beatitudes

* The community which receives the Beatitudes
Matthew mentions eight Beatitudes. Luke only has four and four curses (Lk 6, 20-26). The four mentioned by Luke are: “You who are poor, you who are hungry, you who weep, you who are hated and persecuted” (Lk 6, 20-23). Luke writes for the community of converted pagans. They live in the hostile context of the Roman Empire.
Matthew writes for the community of converted Jews, who live in the context of breaking away from the Synagogue. Before breaking away, they enjoyed a certain social acceptance. But now, after the breaking away, the community entered in crisis and in it they began to appear different tendencies and struggles among them. Some belonging to the line of Pharisees wanted to maintain the same rigour in the observance of the Law, to which they were accustomed before their conversion to Jesus. But in doing this, they excluded the little ones and the poor. The new Law introduced by Jesus asks that all be accepted in the community as brothers and sisters. For this, the solemn beginning of the New Law presents eight Beatitudes which define the categories of persons who should be accepted in the community: the poor, the meek, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted.

* The poor in spirit?
Jesus recognizes richness and the value of the poor (Mt 11, 25-26). His mission was “to announce the Good News to the poor” (Lk 4, 18). He himself lived as a poor person. He possessed nothing himself, he had nowhere to lay his head (Mt 8, 18). And to those who want to follow Jesus he asks that they choose between God and money (Mt 6, 24). Poor in spirit is the person who before the poor has the spirit of Jesus.
Every time that in the story of the People of God they seek to renew the Covenant, it is begun by re-establishing the rights of the poor and of the excluded. Without this, it is not possible to renew the Covenant! This is what the prophets did, this is what Jesus does. He denounces the system which excludes the poor and those who are persecuted, those who fight for justice. In the name of God, Jesus announces a new Project which accepts the excluded. The community around Jesus has to be an example where this future Kingdom begins to be shaped. It should be characterized by a new type of relation to material goods, to persons and to God himself. It should be the seed of a new nation! Behold, a very important task for us Christians, especially for the young. Because this is the only way to merit credibility and to give a very concrete example of the Kingdom, an alternative of life which is really Good News of God for the poor and the excluded.

* Be blessed, happy today
The Gospel says exactly the contrary to that which the civil society in which we live affirms. In society the poor is considered an unhappy person, and happy the one who possess money and is able to spend as he wills. In our society, happy is the one who has fame and power. The unhappy ones are the poor, those who mourn and weep! On Television, the romances, shown in episodes diffuse the myth of the happy and fulfilled persons, and without being aware, the romances shown in episodes become the examples of life for many of us. These words of Jesus still keep their sense in our society: “Blessed are the poor! Blessed are those who mourn!” And for me, being a Christian, who in fact is Blessed?

6. Prayer: Psalm 117

God deserves to be praised.

Alleluia! Praise Yahweh,
all nations, extol him, all peoples,
for his faithful love is strong
and his constancy never-ending.

7. Final Prayer

Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.


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Last revised: 24 January 2005