“Blessed are you… “ (Mt. 5:11)
This Sunday we hear some of the most familiar words found in the Gospels. I would guess that 90% of the things I’ve read and heard (and probably the things I’ve thought and said) about this familiar Gospel has been dead wrong.. Commonly referred to as “The Beatitudes” this Gospel goes to the heart of what it means to be a disciple.
However, most of what I’ve read, heard, and thought, understands the beatitudes as rules of conduct. We interpret them as commandments. We read, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and immediately we start to think about how we can become poor in spirit. We read it as, “If I become poor in spirit (or meek, or persecuted… ), then I will get blessed.” We make this Gospel conditional and a conditional Gospel is not a Gospel at all.
The key word in the Gospel passage is “blessed.” The passage comes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5. It occurs right after Jesus has called his first disciples and begun his ministry of healing and teaching. Jesus is explaining discipleship. He is telling his disciples that they are blessed. They are the beloved of God, chosen to be his disciples. Their call does not mean that life will be easy or perfect. They will still suffer poverty, affliction, persecution, and loss. But God blesses them in the midst of the mess of life. Contrary to appearances, God’s blessing comes in spite of pain.
The Good News of this Gospel is that God’s blessing is not conditional. As disciples, we do not have to become poor or grieving or meek to earn God’s love. The blessing of God stands at the beginning of discipleship. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, the Beatitudes “proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured… for Christ’s disciples.” (CCC 1717). Now that is Good News. God’s blessing is beyond condition. “Rejoice and be glad!” (Mt. 5:12)