THE BEATITUDES (MATTHEW 5:3-12)
by Archimandrite Athanasius Saliba
The twelve Apostles being chosen, the Lord wanted to initiate them in the teaching of the New Kingdom. He took them to the mountain of Koroun-Hattin near Capernaum. A great crowd followed Jesus to the top of the mountain.
One might ask, Why did Jesus choose to go up to the mountain in order to address his disciples and the crowd? We have to understand it as a historical fact without questioning the reason or the motive behind it. However, we can find an explanation based upon the Sermon itself. We know that the core of the “Sermon on the Mount” was first the relation of the doctrine of Jesus to the Law of the Old Testament and the Prophets, and second the comparison between his spirit and the spirit of the Pharisees.
The purpose of the Ascension on the mountain was to show to the Jewish people, and particularly to the disciples, that Christ’s Law is higher than their Law and that his teaching is more perfect than the teaching of the Pharisees. In addition to that, he called upon his followers to leave their daily concerns and worldly interests and to climb to a higher level of thinking, that they might be worthy of understanding the words of the Lord, and to become a fertile soil for the new seed that was going to be sown in their souls by the divine power carrying the message of the Lord to their hearts.
Jesus made it clear to his followers in the course of his Sermon that he did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it. He added that “not one jot or one title shall be lost from the Law till all things have been accomplished.”
The Law here is the divine truth revealed to the Jewish people by the Prophets. Not one jot or one tittle shall be lost from the essential and substantial revelation which was growing in the hearts of the faithful people throughout the ages. Jesus came to fulfill this divine truth and perfect it in so far as the human mind and the human understanding are concerned. He came to open the eyes of his followers to see the essence of the Revelation rather than the letter of the Old Law.
Opening his mouth, Jesus began with the Beatitudes, which set the tone for his Sermon. He wanted to divert their attention from the earthly things and to prepare their minds to apprehend the more important values of life. He did not say, Blessed are the poor, but the poor in spirit; not the hungry but those who hunger and thirst for justice; not the clean, but the clean of heart.
If we were to evaluate the blessedness awarded to each group and to classify it in an ascending order of levels, we find that the peacemakers are granted the highest possible level, that is, “they shall be called the children of God.”
First, to be a peacemaker, one has to be humble in spirit: he must hunger and thirst for justice, he must be merciful and clean of heart. Having all these qualities, one becomes a peacemaker and shall be called a child of God.
Here as well as on many other occasions, Jesus stresses the importance of peace as an essential characteristic of a man conscious of his existence as a being created by God and willing to know the will of his Creator, and to open his eyes to the divine truth. Unfortunately, this message given to us by the Lord to live in peace and to be peacemakers is either disregarded or distorted every time evil tempts the Christian people. Jesus carried his message peacefully even to the Cross, whereas we cannot keep it in our mind and our heart. The Apostles and the first Christians understood it and lived accordingly, meeting all difficulties and all hardships with a peaceful mind and a peaceful spirit. And by that peace, which was given to them by the Lord after his resurrection, they succeeded in winning the world, not for their own interest or for their selfish purposes, but for the glory of the Lord, the Prince of Peace.
This, however, did not last long, because Christians soon forgot that they must not only give allegiance to the Church, but that they should also build their life upon the rock of Christ’s teaching, as he tells us at the end of His Sermon. Christians began to build their houses upon shifting sand instead. They began to give lip confession of faith, while their hearts became occupied by their egotistic and human aspirations and intentions. Hence, the peacemakers disappeared and the dissentions spread throughout the Christian world.
At first, Christians began to fight against the non-Christians, trying to force them to become Christians, but afterward Christians began to fight among themselves, and the peace became, and still is, a word that could mean anything to the Christian people except what Jesus meant when he used it.
Some of the modern thinkers explain this estrangement by saying that Christianity has failed to answer man’s aspirations, therefore man lost faith in it and became indifferent to its precepts. Let us be impartial and analyze the situation on the basis of fact rather than prejudice. Man has been, and still is, looking for an answer to his problem as a spiritual and social being, and to a standard whereby he can communicate with his fellowmen. Christianity has offered to us, among others answers and criteria, the following: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Is it the failure of Christianity if you do not comply with this rule? Or is it your own failure? What is impossible and impractical about it?
I am sure that some of you will say, “It is simple, and I have done it.” But how many of us really do it? How many of us will admit that “thy neighbor” is as much the child of God as you are, whether he lives ten yards away or ten thousand miles?
Yes, my friends, it is not Christianity that has failed, but you and I have failed to respect and love the Lord enough to take His words to heart, and to keep in mind that unless we build our house on the rock which is His teaching and faith in Him as our Lord and Saviour, we will not be called the children of God.
St. George’s, Detroit
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America