4 Sunday A: Beatitudes: Blessed are you

Gospel Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Michel DeVerteuil
General comments
On this Sunday the “continuous reading” of St Matthew’s gospel (see last week’s “guidelines”) leads us to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ long discourse which runs from chapters 5 to 7 and has always been recognised as a summary of all his teaching.
If the Sermon on the Mount summarises the teachings of Jesus’ public ministry, the Sermon itself is summed up in the Beatitudes. Today’s reading  therefore launches us on the journey to a deeper understanding of the public ministry which the Church invites us to make during Ordinary Time (see last week’s guidelines).
Doing lectio divina on the Beatitudes is a different exercise from reading a book on them. There have been many excellent books on the Beatitudes in recent years, No matter how helpful such books are, reading them is not the same as doing lectio on the Beatitudes.  With a book our aim is to grasp the message of the Beatitudes. With  lectio divina the aim is similar but the method different. We focus on the text, get to love it (perhaps for the first time) and let it lead us to love the Beatitudes. As a result the text engages us. Our response to it is not merely “What a beautiful message!” but “What a beautiful text!” and “”It has touched me deeply!”
The Jerusalem Bible version introduces each beatitude with the word “happy”. This is an unfortunate translation which the New Jerusalem Bible has corrected by returning to the traditional “blessed”. Even with “blessed” we need to give it its full biblical meaning. It includes being “happy” (an aspect which was neglected in the past) but adds the notions of “specially chosen by God” and “a blessing for others”.
The Beatitudes are “wisdom teaching”, a biblical literary form that our Church has tended to neglect in recent centuries. Jesus is reporting facts, not moralising. At no point does he say, “you should do this.” He says simply, “people like this are blessed” and lets us draw our conclusions. We respond by entering into the truth of the passage – not “Jesus is telling me to do this”, but “this teaching is true.” The wisdom is celebratory and our meditation must be the same. Each beatitude begins with an exclamation – “How blessed!” I must modify the previous point therefore. Our response is not “this teaching is true” but “how true it is!” and even, “how wonderful that it is true!”
Wisdom is universal by definition. The Beatitudes are teachings in human living, valid not  for Christians only (still less for Catholics only) but for “all men and women of good will”, an expression used by all recent popes in their social teaching. We must make sure that our meditation leads to universal conclusions:  “all gentle people have the earth for their heritage”, “all who are pure of heart see God”, and so forth.
As always with lectio divina, the text is intended to be in dialogue with our experience.  The Beatitudes throw light on our experience and our experience explains the Beatitudes. Our response is not merely “this is true” but “this helps me to understand this parent, friend or teacher who touched my life very deeply” and in turn, “this person helps me understand the Beatitudes.”
Referring to concrete experience is specially important with the Beatitudes which are expressed in biblical language that is foreign to us, e.g. “poor in spirit”, “hunger and thirst for what is right”, “pure of heart”, etc. With them especially we will start with our experience of people and let them explain the meaning of the beatitude, e.g. “my mother was the kind of person to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs, so being poor in spirit means being like her”.
Jesus himself is the prime example of the Beatitudes in practice. We should apply them to him, basing ourselves on some incident reported in the gospels.
The Beatitudes constitute a whole. They are seven (in the bible, the number indicates perfection) aspects of the model human being – for us Christians, the Jesus way of being human. There is a movement between the seven so that the full picture of the ideal human being unfolds gradually, one beatitude leading spontaneously to another, until we grasp the entire teaching in its complex harmony.
It would be a mistake to look for these connections too quickly however; our reflection would end up “heady” rather than “celebratory”. We take one beatitude at a time (any one), stay with it for as long as we are comfortable and then allow the connections with others to emerge in our consciousness, so that they are all contained in the one.
This will take time and we shouldn’t hurry the process. At any one stage in our lives we will find that one beatitude is particularly dear to us. We must be in no hurry to move to another. Perhaps one lifetime is not long enough to love them all – and in any case when we go to the Father we will see them as one.
In the bible (as in all great religious traditions) we enter wisdom through paradox. Things that are usually opposed are reconciled at a higher level, giving us new insight – and new joy. The Beatitudes  are paradoxes and we must make an effort to read them as such which is difficult because they have become familiar and no longer surprise us. If a beatitude does not surprise (even shock) us, it means that we have lost its meaning.
The paradox is in two “movements” (like the movements of a symphony).
a) A main section brings together two “opposites”:
– “poverty of spirit” and “possessing the kingdom”;
– “gentleness” and “having the earth for one’s heritage”;
– “mourning” and “being comforted”, etc.
The bringing together is simultaneous. We weaken the Beatitudes when we make the second a “reward” for the first.
The bringing together must be based on experience. The question in each case is, “When have I seen these two things combined in one person?”
b) Having seen the combination, we exclaim “How blessed!” (in the wide sense explained above).
The Beatitudes are generally interpreted as a teaching on the interior life, and so they are. This must be correctly understood however. According to biblical spirituality, our inner dispositions are reflected outwardly, not merely in one-to-one relationships but in every area of human living, including public life, international relations, etc.
Some commentators make a distinction between inward and outward looking beatitudes:
a) three are “inward looking”: poor in spirit, mourn, pure in heart;
b) four are “outward looking”: gentle, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, peacemakers, being persecuted.
We must not make too much of this distinction however. All the beatitudes speak of inner dispositions which are reflected outwardly. What we must do is give the beatitudes their full scope, seeing them as ideals of human behaviour at every level:
– our relationship with God;
– one-to-one relationships, as parents, friends, teachers, spiritual guides;
– leadership style in Church or secular communities;
– relationships between communities within nations and nations within the human family.

Textual Comments
Verses 1 and 2 give the setting of the Sermon. They remind us that every gospel passage, even a long discourse like this one, is a story. It is never a text book reading, a disembodied “voice” speaking to us from an indeterminate place.  We read it as a story then, asking ourselves (from our experience as always) who has been the Jesus who “began to speak” to us in this vein.
Verses 3 to 12 can be divided
a) 3-10: a main section which proclaims the “blessedness” of the Jesus way;
b) 11-12: a small section outlining its negative aspects.
Verse 3
This first beatitude summarises them all. We will experience this by seeing how it is lived in each of the others.
The two sides of the paradox are
a) “Poor in spirit” means not being attached to anything less than the absolute.
b) “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” means attaining the absolute. We can give this as wide a meaning as we are attracted to,
e.g. union with God, a wonderful human relationship, a harmonious community. etc.
Verse 4
a) We must make sure to relate “gentle” to concrete experience; e.g. it must include being “non-violent” in one form or another.
b) The “earth” can be taken literally, giving the beatitude an ecological meaning but we can also interpret it of a community.
Verse 5
With this beatitude especially we must not pose a time lag between the two aspects of the paradox. Jesus’ teaching is that only those who know how to mourn will experience true comfort.
Verse 6
“What is right” is an unfortunate translation. The traditional “righteousness” is better. It means God’s plan of harmony for ourselves as individuals and for all communities, including the entire human family.
Verse 7
We can interpret “have mercy shown them” of the response of others, “people will show them mercy”. Or we can take it as a Jewish way of saying, “God will show them mercy”. In either interpretation it is a “paradoxical” statements. We often think that the way to have people on our side is by inspiring them with fear, and believers tend to think that God is pleased when they are hard-line.
Verse 8
We give a wide interpretation to both sides of the paradox. “Pure of heart” means being free from every form of ego-centredness. “See God” means being conscious of the divinity in every person and situation.
Verse 9 is paradoxical for the same reason as verse 7.
In verse 10 again “right” is better translated as “righteousness”.
Verses 11 and 12
Here again we must give a correct interpretation to the future tense. The contrast is not between present and future but between the inner peace of believers and the turmoil which surrounds them.

Prayer reflection
When I was, he was not, now he is, I am not.”  Hindu sage
Lord, how true it is that when we are poor in spirit, your kingdom is ours.
“I can be saved only by being one with the universe.” Teilhard de Chardin
Lord, forgive us that we look on the earth as an enemy to be conquered.
Teach us to be gentle
so that we will experience the earth as a precious heritage that we come home to.
   “If you love God the pain does not go away but you live more fully.”    Michael Hollings
Lord, forgive us that we are afraid to mourn and so don’t experience your comfort.
“The ideals which have lighted my way and time after time given me new courage to face life cheerfully  have been kindness, beauty and truth. The trite subjects of life – possessions, outward success, luxury – have always seemed contemptible.” Einstein
Lord, forgive us that we no longer hunger and thirst for your righteousness
and so are never satisfied.
  “We don’t possess the truth, we need the truth of the other.”  Bishop Pierre Claverie, French Dominican Bishop killed by fundamentalist Muslims in Algeria
Lord, lead to us to the blessedness of looking at others with compassion
and then experiencing their compassion for us.
“Whether it is the surface of Scripture or the natural form of nature, both serve to clothe Christ, two veils that mask the radiance of his faith, while at the same time reflecting his beauty.”  John Scotus Eriugena
Lord, free your Church from all that takes away our purity of heart and clouds our vision
– focusing on showing that we are superior to others;
– trying to be popular with our contemporaries;
– being concerned with increasing our numbers.
Lead us to purity of heart so that we may see you at work
in every person and every situation,
  “Once you have rid yourself of the fear of the oppressor, his prisons, his police, his army, there is  nothing they can do to you. You are free.”      Nelson Mandela
Lord we thank you for peace makers; they are truly your sons and daughters,
“Truth must be protected at all costs but by dying for it, not by killing others.”
Lactantius, 4th century
Lord, forgive us that we are afraid of being abused and persecuted
and having calumny spoken against us.
Help us rather to rejoice and be glad when these things happen to us,
and to know that we will have a great reward
and that this is how they persecuted the prophets before us.
Thomas O’Loughlin
Homily notes

1. Today’s section of Matthew is so often used in the liturgy (e.g. at funerals) that it has become hackneyed: it flows over most heads without making any impression; it just sounds lovely and we are in favour of it. However, whenever a politician, a manager or a trade union official, or a bishop is reminded of the way of meekness, it quickly becomes clear that this is not seen as a manner in which one can get things done! Few texts in the gospels elicit such a paradox: suppli­ant, virtually uncritical acceptance at the notional level and intellectually; coupled with almost total disbelief and out­right rejection at the existential level and in action. One task of preaching this good news (is it really such for us?) is to try to explore this paradox.
2. However, if the Beatitudes cause such difficulties in perception, there is the fact that the Spirit moving in the hearts of the faithful continues to bring forth the very fruits mentioned in this gospel.
3. So in the community are there groups concerned with:
• Mt 5:3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’; i.e. those working for the practical alleviation of poverty in the local area (e.g. the St Vincent de Paul Society)? Is there a group dealing with global poverty or poverty as a matter of faith and justice (e.g. fair trade for the Third World)?
• Mt 5:4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be com­forted’; i.e. a group working with the bereaved?
• Mt 5:5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’; i.e. people concerned with the earth and its resources (e.g. environmental action groups)?
• Mt 5:6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied’; i.e. groups working for those who are unjustly treated in our society (e.g. immigrant workers, the homeless, other disadvantaged groups)?
• Mt 5:7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’ and Mt 5:8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’; i.e. groups who engage in the activities linked to specific spiritualities (e.g. prayer groups, reflection groups, those working for ecumenical understanding, groups working for particular developments in the church)?
• Mt 5:9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’; those who work for peace in the world (e.g. on the one hand this could be an antiwar movement, or the other it could be those who have taken part in peace-keeping with the armed forces, or those who have worked for recon­ciliation in divided societies)?
4. The task would be to use today to let these groups be seen by the whole community and so become aware of what they are doing, could do, and could do better if they thought of them­selves as different limbs of the body of Christ.
5. Some of these groups may very readily identify themselves, and be recognised by others, as linked to the church’s agenda to build the kingdom (e.g. a prayer group). But others might be quite surprised to have their work so considered (e.g. someone working on concerns about the environment who may be one of those who think that Christianity is either silent or antagonistic to such concerns). The again, some will be surprised that some work of another group should be  placed in the same camp of legitimate concerns as their own. For example, sociologists note that there is a high correlation between those who attend religious ceremonies regularly and social conservatism. Therefore, sociologists are not sur­prised that many congregations are non-welcoming to strangers or have a high proportion of those who feel ‘for­eigners should not get our jobs’. So having some people from the social justice groups seen as part of the Lord’s kingdom building exercise may be rather discomforting to some. Such discomfort is part of the kerygma.
6. Rather than preach, organise it that these various groups ­and it is the glory of the Spirit that there will always be more than one already knows – to ‘show-case’ their work briefly, and invite them to consider how they can see themselves as parts of the Lord’s ‘project.’
John Littleton

One of my friends was born blind. Consequently, he is unable to marvel at the colours of the rainbow. He is incapable of appreciating the subtle differences between the various shades of green in the garden shrubs and trees. He cannot enjoy the beauty of the stained glass windows in his local church as the sunlight shines through them. In short, he cannot see the beauty of God’s creation.
However, my blind friend’s other senses — hearing, speech, touch and smell — are exceptionally alert and they help him to compensate for his blindness by enabling him to experience and appreciate his surroundings in different ways. Yet he seems to be disadvantaged when compared to most other people because, unlike them, he cannot see with his eyes. He lives in a world of darkness and during this life he will never truly understand what it is to see and to be guided by light.
Thankfully, although physically blind, my friend has learned to ‘see’ in other ways. He believes in God and, for him as it must be for all of us, believing is seeing. It is often said that ‘seeing is believing’. Nevertheless, it is faith that brings true sight and, from the perspective of faith, ‘believing is seeing’. My friend has seen God in many areas of his life without depending on his eyes and, having experienced God’s love, he believes in God’s goodness and providential care. True sight, then, is really insight.
Sadly, there has always been physical blindness in our world. But physical blindness is not the only type of blindness that affects people, nor is it the most damaging. A far more harmful blindness is the spiritual blindness that results from sin. This spiritual blindness is evident in the lives of people who are confused or lost, often having no moral guidance.
Unlike physical blindness, spiritual blindness occurs when people either refuse or are unable to accept Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life. The well known proverb is appropriate: ‘There is none so blind as those who will not see!’ Here, the phrase ‘those who will not’ means ‘those who do not wish to’ or ‘those who refuse to’.
Unfortunately, many of us are spiritually blind without realising it. We need to learn that in recognising our personal sinfulness our spiritual blindness begins to be healed. Jesus brings healing from sin into our lives through his Church and the sacraments, especially the sacrament of reconciliation. When we celebrate this sacrament with the proper disposition we meet the risen Lord who heals us and gives us life. Believing is seeing.
Although my friend lives in constant darkness, he has many opportunities to see as a result of his faith. Ironically, many of us who can see clearly with our eyes are increasingly blind to God’s presence around us because of our lack of faith and our sin. We are being challenged to invite Jesus to heal our spiritual blindness so that we may share his insight. Then our witness to the Good News will lead us to dispel the spiritual darkness in our world. God has chosen each one of us to reveal his love to the world. First of all, however, we need to believe in God so that, like my friend who is blind, believing we may see.

For meditation
The blind man went off and washed himself, and came away with his sight restored. (Jn 9:7)

Donal Neary SJ:  
Day- to- day compassion
Today’s gospel is described by Pope Francis: ‘This is the new law, the one we call the  “ the Beatitudes.”It’s the Lord’s new law for us’ (February 2016). It highlights attitudes of the heart rather than just a set of rules to be followed.
We do not stay just with the words of Jesus. His life and teaching was a commentary on this sermon. Jesus invites us to watch how the sermon is lived out in his life. All the qualities – being poor in the spirit, able to mourn our losses and work for peace – are qualities of the human person. This is how we know our need for God, our need for each other. Even in his risen life he was the humble one who could listen to the doubts of his disciples and guide them to further faith, each in his or her own way.
The church is called to live these qualities, which lead us to the compassion of Jesus and to bring compassion in our lives.  Compassion and understanding come from listening deeply to others, especially their joys and sorrows.
Compassion also grows in prayer – by asking for it, and by watching the compassion of Jesus in his life.
Someone working with young people once said that ‘an ounce of compassion is worth a ton of exhortation.’ Marriage, friendship and family life are all enriched by the quality of compassionate listening.

From the Connections:

Today's Gospel is the beautiful “Beatitudes” reading from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s compilation of the sayings and teachings of Jesus. The word “blessed,” as used by Jesus in the eight maxims, was written in Greek as makarios, a word which indicates a joy that is God-like in its serenity and totality.
Specific Greek words used throughout the text indicate several important meanings:
‘The poor in spirit:’ those who are detached from material things, who put their trust in God.
“The sorrowing:”  this Beatitude speaks of the value of caring and compassion – the hallmarks of Jesus’ teaching.
“The lowly:” the Greek word used here is praotes – true humility that banishes all pride; the “blessed” who accept the necessity to learn and grow and realize their need to be forgiven.
“They who show mercy:” the Greek word chesedh used here indicates the ability to get “inside a person's a skin” until we can see things from his/her perspective, consider things from his/her experience mind and feel his/her joys and sorrows.
“The peacemakers:” peace is not merely the absence of trouble or discord but peace is a positive condition: it is everything that provides and makes for humanity’s highest good; note, too, that the “blessed” are described as peace-makers and not simply peace-lovers.
The Beatitudes call us to a very different set of values than those of our dog-eat-dog-success-is-everything-get-them-before-they-get-you-bottom-line-based world.  We are called, as Zephaniah (Reading 1) preaches, “to seek the Lord in all things.”
As a people of faith we are called to focus our lives on the “blessedness” of the Sermon on the Mount: to seek our joy and fulfillment in God above all things.  Our “blessedness” cannot be measured by our portfolios, celebrity or intellect, but in our ability to grasp that we exist not in and of ourselves but by and in the love of God.
The “blessed” of the Gospel have embraced a spirit of humble gratitude before the God who gives, nurtures and sustains our lives.  The “blessed” seek to respond to such unfathomable love the only way they can: by returning that love to others, God’s children, as a way of returning it to God.
The richness of humility
Farmers and gardeners will all tell you:  Humus is the gold in their fields and gardeners.  Composed of the decay of plant and animal matter, humus is the most organic and richest part of the soil.  When it is tilled and broken open to receive seed and rainfall and sunlight, the dark humus soil yields the most bountiful harvests and the most beautiful of flowers.
From the same root as the word humus comes the word humility.  Like the rich, broken soil of humus, humility is the capacity to be open to receive the seeds of experience — both the painful and the enriching — in order to grow in wisdom and understanding.  Humility is the grace to let ourselves be “broken” — broken of our pride, our ego — in order to realize a harvest far greater than us, a harvest that is possible only through generous openness, selfless giving and enlightened gratitude.  Humility is the grace to plant in hope, persevere through droughts and storms, and reap in joy.
[Suggested from a prayer by the Rev. David P. Jones, reported in the Episcopal Life/New Hampshire.]
To be a people of the Beatitudes is to embrace the spirit of humility that begins with cherishing life as a gift from God, a gift we have received only through God's mysterious love, not through anything we have done to deserve it.  Jesus calls all who would be his disciples to embrace the “blessedness” of the Sermon on the Mount: to “detach” from material things so as to “attach” ourselves to the things of God; to be humble enough to realize our need to be forgiven and reconciled with God and family and friends; to embrace the spirit of “mercy” that enables us to consider things from the perspective of others and feel their joys and sorrows; to be makers of “peace” that honors and upholds humanity's highest good.

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

The first reading from Zephaniah speaks of the Day of Yahweh, when God will intervene directly in the life of Israel. Zephaniah advises the people to seek God in humility and lowliness. These are necessary conditions to find God for he rejects falsehood and the proud-hearted, who believe that they can manage on their own and don’t need him. The Israelite nation had suffered decades of oppression under the Assyrian rule, the prophet now announces the arrival of salvation and liberation of the little ones who have suffered under foreign rule. This ‘Day of Yahweh’ is a time of effective action by God on behalf of his people. God is close to those who are humble and depend on him. 

Meekness is not weakness
St Clement Hofbauer of Vienna was collecting funds for orphans whose parents had died in the Napoleonic wars. He walked into a restaurant where three men were playing cards and asked them for a contribution for his good work. One of the cursed him and spat on his face. Hofbauer quietly took out his handkerchief wiped the spit from his cheek and said without the slightest sign of anger, "Now that was for me, sir. How about something for my orphans?" The abusive card player was so dumbfounded that he reached into his pocket and handed the saint all the money he had with him.
- Msgr. Arthur Tonne
In the second reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Paul is aware of the diverse groups in Corinth who boast of their superior origins and ways of living the Christian life. Paul speaks bluntly to them and points out that none of them have grounds for boasting as none of them really come from noble stock. The Christian has only one basis for trust and hope and that is Jesus who died and rose again. In comparison with the Lord of life all divisions and privileges are insignificant. Unfortunately, even today, while claiming to follow Jesus Christ, people boast of being superior to others on the basis of race, colour, caste, class, education, social standing, all insignificant factors in matters of faith. "As Scripture says, if anyone wants to boast, let him boast about the Lord." Today’s gospel portrays Jesus as an authoritative teacher, who solemnly announces the fundamentals of life in the Kingdom of Heaven. The disciples are the primary target audience of the Sermon on the Mount but the principles are addressed beyond the immediate circle of disciples to the crowds of followers. The principles are universal. They are delivered on the mountain, the favoured place among the Israelites for encountering God. The sermon on the mount contains the essence of Christ’s teachings and the beatitudes are the essence of that essence. In the beatitudes Jesus presents a new vision of the Kingdom and invites his followers to live that vision.

A new vision for new life
A native American chief who was nearing the end of his life gathered his three sons and told them, "Do you see that mountain in the distance? I want you to journey to that mountain, climb to its summit and bring back the thing you think will be most helpful in leading our people." After several days the first son returned with a load of flint stones, used to make arrow tips and spear points. He told his father, "Our people will never live in fear of their enemies. I know where there is a mount of flint." The second son climbed the top of the mountain and found forests rich with wood for making fires. When he returned he said to his father, "Our people will never be cold in winter. I know where wood can be found in abundance to keep them warm and cook their food." The third son returned late and empty handed. He stated "When I got to the top of the mountain I found nothing worth bringing back. I searched everywhere, but the top of the mountain was barren rock and useless. Then I looked towards the horizon, far into the distance. I was astonished to see new land filled with forests and meadows, mountains and valleys, fish and animals – a land of great beauty and great peace. I brought nothing back, for the land was still far off and I didn’t have time to travel there. But I would love to go there someday; I delayed coming back because I found it very difficult to return after seeing the beauty of the land." The old chief’s eyes blazed. He grasped this third son in his arms proclaiming that he would succeed him as the new chief. He thought to himself, "The other sons brought back worthy things, necessary things. But my third son knows the way to a better land. It is important that the new chief has a vision and has seen the promised land and burns with a desire for it."
- Brian Cavanaugh in ‘Sower’s Seeds of Encouragement’
In the beatitudes it is not starvation and misery that are being blessed- these are evil things. What is being blessed is reliance on God. Those who know their need of God, and live life as He would have them live it, are truly blessed. They are the most fortunate of all people, for God will give them all that they need. Only God can fulfill our emptiness. We like to believe that we can manage our lives, that we are self sufficient, that we can make it on our own. Those who put their trust in human resources will be disappointed but those who trust in God will never be disappointed. Men and women of all ages have drawn inspiration from the Sermon on the Mount. Mahatma Gandhi drew strength and inspiration from the Beatitudes for his concept of non-violence. Martin Luther King was convinced that his struggle on behalf of the poor and the oppressed would succeed only if it was based on justice, love and forgiveness, proclaimed in the Beatitudes. All the eight beatitudes have a second line that deals with relationship with God. The first and the last pledge the Kingdom in the present to those who are poor and persecuted, while the inner six look to a final completion of God’s work for the mourning and others in the future. These beatitudes form a summary of the Christian life. We are blessed by God when we depend on him and when we strive single mindedly for justice and are willing to endure for one’s fidelity. There is a present and a future dimension to the kingdom. The poor in spirit are not merely those who find themselves in poverty but those who know they depend on God for everything and are nothing without Him. They are those who joyfully acknowledge their dependence on his goodness and mercy. The beatitudes are a challenge to focus our lives not on our achievements and ourselves but on God alone. A challenge to live more for God.

And then some
A successful businessman once was asked the secret of success. His reply summed success in three words: AND THEN SOME. He learned early in life that the difference between average people and truly successful people could be simply stated in those three words. Top people did what was expected and then some! Jesus taught the and then some principle in the Sermon on the Mount. He is saying: Go beyond what is expected! Go a little further! Let these words serve as a tonic for your spirit. Practice your faith faithfully –and then some. Give generously of your time and resources- and then some. Greet those you meet with a smile – and then some. Meet your obligations; be dependable –and then some. Do your best in all things and at all times –and then some.
- Clarence DeLoach Jr.
5. Matthew 5:1-12 - "The True Nature of Happiness"
Some years ago the Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer published an article entitled: "How Do You Measure Up As A Man? The article stated that some extensive research had been conducted on the 20th century standards for measuring a man. The criteria were quite interesting and I thought that I might list them for the men here this morning just to see how they measure up.

1. His ability to make and conserve money (That lets me out already).
2. The cost, style and age of his car.
3. (This is my favourite) How much hair he has.
4. His strength and size.
5. The job he holds and how successful he is at it.
6. What sports he likes.
7. How many clubs he belongs to.
8. His aggressiveness and reliability.

Jesus Christ also once set down eight principles for the measure of a person. His standards stand in stark contrast to the aforementioned. There would appear to be a wide gulf between the popular image of the successful person and what God sees as the successful person.

Here's what happened: Jesus had just started his ministry and was gaining in popularity. Large crowds were gathering. He had just picked out his disciples. And in the quiet of the rolling grassy hills of northern Israel by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus delivered a sermon to a multitude. Acres and acres of human faces. The crowd represented a cross section of humanity...

"Mushers" and people who travel by dog sled over snowy, frozen terrain. "Mushers" have a saying: "If you're not the lead dog, the scenery never changes."

That "Mushers" saying has become a centerpiece doctrine of the leadership literature that has been inundating the corporate and church worlds of the last thirty years. If you are not the "top dog," in other words, no matter how far you travel your journey is just going to be a "tale of tails."  

Striving to be "top dog" is the goal we are encouraged to achieve from our earliest childhood to our graduate school education. No one wants to be the "under dog" or the "low dog." Being "on top" means getting the best grades in school, in order to get the best opportunities, the best treatment, the best salary, the bst office, the best seats in the house, the best table, the best of everything everywhere you go. Who could possibly not see the advantages that come with being at the "top" and not the "bottom" of the heap? 

In 1897 vision scientist and psychologist George M. Stratton (1865-1957) created a pair of glasses that turned the world upside down. Actually, he turned the world right-side-up because our eyes project an image to our brains that is naturally upside down. Our brains take an image and invert it - giving us our "right side up" perception of the world. Stratton strapped on his goggles and proceeded to blunder into things for several days. In this new, now "upside-down" world, his brain was seeing liquids "poured up," he saw himself walking on ceilings. Everything he viewed was completely inverted.

But only for a few days. Our eyes are our cameras, but the pictures we take with our eyes are developed by our brains. After a few days Stratton recorded that his most powerful visual organ, his brain, had figured out that something was amiss. After a few days his brain re-inverted the images it was receiving, and the world no longer looked upside down to the scientist. His brain completely flipped the images and presented him with a right-side up world once again. The process took about three days...

1.     Having Lost All, All Is Found

"Having reached the end of the Beatitudes, we naturally ask if there is any place on this earth for the community which they describe. Clearly, there is one place, and only one, and that is where the Poorest, Meekest, and most sorely Tried of all men is to be found - on the cross at Golgotha. The community which is the subject of the Beatitudes is the community of the crucified. With Him it has lost all, and with him it has found all."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
2.     Balance: The Law of Love

Plato once imagined the spiritual journey as a chariot moving through the wilderness of life, with the soul as the charioteer trying to rein in two powerful horses: the horse of anger or passion, and the horse of reason or order. Plato understood that both passion and reason can be life-giving, but only when they are held in dynamic tension, only when each power neutralizes the potential destruction of the other. This morning Jesus tells us that we must balance the passion of anger with the discipline and reason of love. And he tells us that the law of love can best be fulfilled, not through rules, but through relationships.

Susan R. Andrews, The Offense Of Grace, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
3.     The Key to the Beatitudes 

The idea of being poor in spirit is the key to all that is to follow in the Beatitudes. I like the note in the Life Application Bible:

"You cannot mourn without appreciating how insufficient you are to handle life in your own strength.
You cannot be meek unless you know you have needed gentleness yourself.
You cannot hunger and thirst for righteousness if you proudly think of yourself as already righteous.
You cannot be merciful without recognizing your own need for mercy.
You cannot be pure in heart if your heart is full of pride.
You cannot be a peacemaker if you believe that you are always right.
You cannot identify with Christ in the face of negative reactions from others without dying to yourself and renouncing your own rights."
All of these beatitudes are rooted in humility, being poor in spirit.

Owen Stepp, Unlikely Blessings
4.     God Shows Through

One Sunday as they drove home from church, a little girl turned to her mother and said, "Mommy, there's something about the preacher's message this morning that I don't understand." The mother said, "Oh? What is it?" The little girl replied, "Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. He said God is so big that He could hold the whole world in His hand. Is that true?" The mother replied, "Yes, that's true, honey." "But Mommy, he also said that God comes to live inside of us when we believe in Jesus as our Savior. Is that true, too?" Again, the mother assured the little girl that what the pastor had said was true. With a puzzled look on her face the little girl then asked, "If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn't He show through?"

That is what the beatitudes are about - God showing through.
Jerry Shirley, When God Shows Through 


5.     God Means Everything

"Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

William Barclay says this verse means, "Blessed is the man who has realized his own utter helplessness, and who has put his whole trust in God. If a man has realized his own utter helplessness, and has put his whole trust in God, there will enter into his life two things....

He will become completely detached from things, for he will know that things have not got it in them to bring happiness or security; and he will become completely attached to God, for he will know that God alone can bring him help, and hope, and strength.

The man who is poor in spirit is the man who has realized that things mean nothing, and that God means everything."

Mickey Anders, The Beatitudes Are Not Platitudes!

6.     "Best All Around"

I remember in high school having the "Who's Who" for my grade, and one of the categories was "Best All Around." To be considered for this category, the student needed to have a multitude and a wide variety of attributes...and be good at them. Characteristics like being smart, friendly, well-dressed, pretty/handsome, good at sports, and perhaps being musically gifted or artistic are important to have if you want to qualify for the category.

Similarly, if you could make the Beatitudes as a sort of checklist for Christians, they could see the areas they need to improve in. Perhaps if they could check all of the Beatitudes off the list, they might qualify as a sort of "Best All Around" Christian, a great inspiration and role model.

Jim Forest, The Ladder of the Beatitudes

7.     Better than Average 

A while back, I read that 85% of all drivers in America consider themselves "above-average" drivers. Of course, this cannot be true: By definition, I believe only 49% of drivers are above average. However, the survey gives us an insight into human nature: People generally view themselves as better than others. And if they are better than others, then they are doing a good enough job.

This transfers over into religion far more than we are aware, and it becomes apparent in how these Beatitudes are taught. Often one will hear, "The message of the Beatitudes is that, if I do these things well enough, then I will be happy. If I am good enough at these things, then I will be blessed." It's a human standard of measure: "If I am better at this than average, then I'm in good shape." But does this work for sainthood?

Tim Pauls, What It Takes to Be a Saint

8.     You Can't Make It "By The Book"

A small parable: Once upon a time, there was a company who had two junior executives. One did everything by the book, was diligent and trustworthy, always made sure he was covered and, since he always went by the book, rarely made mistakes. The other also was a hard and diligent worker, but he often tested the rules, sometimes received some criticism, and sometimes made mistakes. One day an opening came up for a senior executive position, and the owner of the company promoted the one who made mistakes over the other. Of course Mr. "By the Book" was enraged and asked his boss why - after all, he had a better record, didn't he? He NEVER made mistakes. He ALWAYS followed the book. To which his boss replied, "Yes, but what will you do someday when something comes up that isn't covered by the book. You know the rules, but he knows what we are doing here, and why we are here. He UNDERSTANDS the company. And that's why he was promoted over you."

How do we obtain God's blessing? Well, the answer, of course, is that it's not something we obtain - it's not for sale. It's something he has already freely given to you, but which you can only recognize when you accept it as a gift, and live in it.

Gary Roth, All of God's Blessings

9.     Healthy Are the Poor in Spirit 

Some years ago a panel of doctors was appointed by the Federal government to meet together and draw up eight laws of public health that could be printed in pamphlet Form and distributed to the public. After twelve days off exhaustive meetings, the doctors were unable to come to a consensus. It seems that their areas of concern were so diverse: one was a cancer specialist, one a cardiologist, one a psychiatrist, and they all approached the problem from their own discipline. The chest expert was concerned about coal dust from the mines and lint from textile mills, while the psychiatrist was concerned about the effects off urban stress. Finally, Dr. Harold Sladen offered Hospital in Detroit came up with an appropriate idea. He said: Let's just republish the eight beatitudes of Jesus and simply replace the word "Blessed" with the words "healthy."

10.  Blessed Are the Cheese Makers 

Here is the infamous bit from Monty Pythons "Life of Brian." All great humor must have one essential element: Truth. This bit certainly has that. Jesus' words when misunderstood has led to some pretty fantastic conclusions. And so, this is dedicated to all those knuckle headed interpretations throughout the years. There are two main characters in the bit who are called Trouble and Bignose. They are at the back of the crowd when Jesus is giving the Sermon On The Mount:

Trouble: Well go and talk to him somewhere else... I can't hear a bloody thing.
Bignose: Don't you swear at my wife.
Trouble: I was only asking her to shut up so I could hear what he was saying, Bignose.
Bignose wife: Don't you call my husband Bignose.
Trouble: Well he has got a big nose.
Jew: Could you be quite, please. What was that?
Trouble: I don't know... I was too busy talking to Bignose.
Man: I think it was 'Blessed are the cheese-makers'...