The Sermon on the Mount
The time is accomplished, and the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe in the gospel.
How often do we actually listen to the words of our Lord? How many times does the same passage of scripture come up again, and we think, "Oh, I know that verse!" and proceed to tune out the actual reading?
I know, I know, so judgmental! But if I judge in this matter, I also judge myself. I mean, the Sermon on the Mount? Really? The Beatitudes? That's just another way for people I don't like to beat me over the head with how all Christianity is about is being a nice person, and how I shouldn't judge and stuff. Right?
Beatitude - Supreme Blessedness. As in Beatific Vision - Heaven.
The Beatitudes - and the whole Sermon itself - are nothing less than a radical instruction in the conversion of life required to become a Citizen of Heaven. This is not about being nice, it is about being Holy as God is Holy, Perfect as the Father is Perfect.
With that in mind, let's take a fresh look at the Sermon on the Mount, especially the Beatitudes.
The Sermon covers a lot of ground. In brief we have,
- The 8 Beatitudes (Blessed are...)
- The Similes of Salt and Light
- Teachings about the Law, Anger, Adultery, Divorce, Oaths, Retaliation
- Love of Enemies
- Teachings about Almsgiving, Prayer
- The Lord's Prayer
- Teaching about Fasting
- Treasure in Heaven
- The Light of the Body
- God and Money
- Dependence on God
- Judging Others
- Pearls before Swine
- The Answer to Prayers
- The Golden Rule
- The Narrow Gate
- False Prophets
- The True Disciple
- The Two Foundations
It's three long chapters, so sue me.
But like I said, the Beatitudes. Blessed are. Who must we be to enter the Kingdom of God?
Poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Totally dependent on God, no matter our station, status, means, or lack thereof. Acknowledging our sinfulness rending our hearts and not our garments. Obedient to the Will of God, courageous in the accomplishment of that will. Craving, fed by the righteousness of God. Merciful as Our Father is merciful. The ones who bring about and protect peace. The ones who give everything for the Good News, even our lives.
That is what it means to be blessed. That is what it means to be a citizen of Heaven.
We balance a thirst for righteousness with mercy for the unrighteous, especially for the repentant sinner, because we are all repentant sinners.
We balance a quest for peace (which may even include physical violence or war, according to the Catechism) with the meekness to accept insult and injury without retaliation.
We take care of ourselves and our families, while still depending entirely on the will and providence of God.
We instruct the ignorant and admonish the sinner, while never condemning or passing judgement upon any person.
We strive to walk the constricted road, enter by the narrow gate, with our hearts clean that we may see God.
This is what our Lord asks of us, every day. The Sermon on the Mount is not a series of platitudes that can be passed over lightly. They challenge us, make us uncomfortable. I have friends who aren't fans of the "Not a single letter of the law shall pass away." I struggle with mercy, a lot. And probably with judgement, if I'm honest.
That's the thing about God's law, and our fallen nature. I remember attending a lecture at my university by Dr. Peter Kreeft on the problem of evil, where he challenged the question "Why do bad things happen to good people?" with "Why do good things happen to bad people?" We like to think of ourselves - I like to think of myself - as good people.
You know, I go to Mass every Sunday unless I'm sick, I haven't killed anyone, I didn't have sex before marriage, I don't cheat on my wife, I don't use contraception, I blog about God. You know, the checklist. I'm a good person, right?
But do I really depend on Him? Am I really poor in spirit? Do I realize just how stained my soul is, how in need of a savior I am?
Do I really mourn my sins, or just the sins I'm ready to let go of? Just the sins of the world that I'm not guilty of?
To paraphrase Mumford & Sons, can I kneel before the King and say "I'm clean"?
Am I too eager for a war to punish evildoers? Or for a penal system meant to punish vindictively, and not seek the healing of the criminal?
As with a failure to really listen to scripture, if I judge, I judge myself as well. But I suppose this is why in that same sermon, Our Lord says, "See the beam in your own eye, and remove it that you may help your brother to remove the splinter."
What beam will you remove this day? What speck will you tell me is in my eye?
How will you be blessed?