The Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12):
Last week the prophesy of Isaiah resounded, “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light had dawned” (Is 9:1-2). This week “[Jesus] went up the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them” (Mt 5:1-2). The great light is poured out, as the Word proclaims the Word, the encounter with God himself as prophesised by Isaiah.
Jesus sits down to teach, and when Jesus is sitting down it often means that something important is following. The Rabbis used to sit on the cathedra, the chair, and from here comes the tradition that the Bishop sits down when he preaches. It gives genuine authority as Jesus himself says: “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but do not what they do; for they preach but do not practice” (Mt 23:2-3).
Jesus gives like Moses guidelines to live our lives. The commandments Moses gave to the people of Israel, having come down from the cloud-covered mountain, amid earthquakes and lightning, seem much easier to adhere to than Jesus’ demands while sitting peacefully in the countryside of Galilee. Jesus’ teaching is an invitation to communion with God, which is more challenging as it invites us to a completely new level; it is not an abolishment, but a deepening of the understanding of the Old Law.
Jesus is calling everybody to be his disciple, but it is clear as he speaks that discipleship is not what we normally associate with the liberating light prophesised by Isaiah. Everything that Jesus brings forward as a blessing seems at first glance to be a curse, and taking Luke’s Gospel as a whole, everything which seems good at first glance is made by Jesus to be a curse.
Jesus is trying to tell us that reality is not as we perceive it. Christianity is not some-kind of a “make me feel good” movement. Instead Christianity recognises the reality of life, unites itself with Christ and leads us to the fullness of life. Jesus is talking to us, inviting us to sit at his feet and listen to him, he teaches us that the real values are not as they might first appear to us.
His message is not to subdue us, but to liberate us and set us free. Being a disciple of Jesus cannot be reduced to just a ritual or a performance, it requires a change of heart, and it may even lead to ridicule and persecution. Ultimately it is God who is the only one who can give us complete happiness, and when we experience the encounter with God we realise that it is worth giving up whatever separates us from him.