Pastor Dale E. Austin Matthew 5:1-12
Today we begin a brief series on what we’ve come to know as Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” or Words To Live By. It covers three chapters in Matthew’s gospel, so given the usual attention span of most adults, it’s unlikely that Jesus preached it all in one setting. Rather, this is probably a compilation of several messages which have been gathered together into one location. When and where the words were spoken, however, are relatively insignificant. What’s important for us is who spoke the words and what they tell us.
The opening is known to almost all of us as the Beatitudes, the blessings. Jesus spoke these words to offer hope, if not comfort, to people who often felt oppressed and imposed upon by the Roman regime. What comfort Jesus offers is in the form of future hope. If you mourn, you will be comforted. If you are persecuted, you will find rest.
Matthew tends to approach these blessings from a spiritual point of view. He speaks of the poor in spirit, and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. From Matthews perspective, everything Jesus says relates to our relationship with God and the strength of our faith during times of difficulty.
Another emphasis in Matthew’s version is that Jesus doesn’t see these words as relating only to individuals. Our personal relationship with God is important. But it’s not just a question of how we respond to life on a personal level; our relationship with God within the context of our community is just as important.
Matthew recognizes this. Although in the English translation it is difficult when Jesus says “Blessed are you. . . “ to distinguish whether he is speaking of “you” as a specific individual or “you” as a whole group of people, we gather from the context that Matthew sees Jesus as addressing the gathered body as a whole.
As Jesus relates his “blessings”, it becomes apparent that true piety and faithfulness to God is no guarantee of popularity, wealth, health or even safety, contrary to the popular line we sometimes hear today. It’s wishful thinking.
We know that people will still get sick, people will still mourn. They will still experience loneliness, and they may even live in poverty, regardless of their level of devotion. But. . .such devotion will be characterized by total and absolute confidence in God.
Sure, things might be a mess right now, but a time is coming when all will be well. Because God has promised it.
This is more than individual conviction; it is shared by the faithful collectively. The use of the plural “you” addresses community life, not just the individual. How we relate to each other, how we support or encourage our friends and neighbors, how we respond to each other’s trials is a significant aspect of being “blessed”.
Depending upon the particular translation, the Beatitudes might say “blessed” or “happy”. It works either way. The bottom line is that Jesus is telling us that the road to happiness is found not only in faithfulness to God, but also in faithfulness to our neighbors. It’s not enough to have a good relationship with God if we’re going to be rude and condescending to our neighbors. If we even acknowledge them at all.
Jesus encountered this with the Pharisees. The Pharisees had a good relationship with God. . . .as far as they knew! They did all of the right things, offered all of the appropriate prayers, observed the proper fasts and feasts, read their scriptures daily, and so on. But they did not treat non-Pharisees, their neighbors, well. So Jesus tried again and again to warn them that they were not really as righteous in God’s eyes as they liked to believe they were.
And that is the point Jesus wants us to hear again and again in his teachings. Yes, we have a duty to God to be faithful and walk in God’s ways. But if we really want to be happy in this life, we can’t stop there. We also have a duty toward our neighbors, to care for them and to treat them as God would treat them. True happiness, the kind which God intends for everyone, is found as we apply our faith to the way in which we respond to the neighbors around us: to their needs, their hopes, and simply their presence. Ultimately, true happiness grows as we serve God and our neighbors.