The beatitudes begin with a statement setting the context of where and how they were given to us. It can be an easy statement to skip over as we jump ahead into the beatitudes themselves, but if we do we would miss something. The Gospel says that Jesus went up the mountain and sat down. For the people of Israel, mountains were a place of divine revelation, where God often revealed himself to his people. Mountains were where they received the covenants, such as when Abraham received the promise of being made the father of a nation, or when Moses received the tablets and the covenant on Mount Sinai. Mountains were the place where the prophets heard the Lord speaking, such as the prophet Elijah calling down God’s presence on Mount Carmel or hearing the Lord’s voice on Mount Horeb. And of course holy Jerusalem itself and the Temple within it is built on Mount Zion. So Jesus goes to the place symbolic of divine revelation and he sits down… which is what rabbis did when they were teaching their disciples. The rabbi would sit and the disciples would sit at his feet on the ground. Jesus is trying to tell us by the place and by his posture, that what he is about to say is important and deliberate. This is the divine teacher revealing who God is and how He is going to be active in our lives.
And what does the divine teacher have to say? The poor, the mourners, the meek… the ones longing for justice, showing mercy, keeping their hearts clean, making peace, being persecuted for righteousness, being persecuted for Christ… the Father sees them and he will bless them. These people are not the ones who the world has ever blessed. The poor are forgotten, the meek are trampled upon, the ones showing mercy are taken advantage of, the peaceful are slain… that has always been the way of the world. And that is exactly why this message is so important for us to hear and so stressed by Jesus in the way he gives it. The world pressures us to adopt its own ways and values… values that aren’t always bad but values that definitely aren’t always good. One of the lines during the presidential inauguration was that we are going to make America wealthy again. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone hearing that – when did being wealthy become a foundational value of our society? I’m sorry, but you and I have to set our hearts on something other than the world’s blessing of being wealthy and spend our time instead on seeking the things that bring about the eternal blessing of the Lord.
So the task that the scriptures give us this week is to examine ourselves and specifically our motivations in life. What are the things that you value? What are the things that drive your life and what you do and who you are? Take those things and hold them up to the beatitudes. Compare what God values to what you have valued so far. Think about what you think the world values and ask if you have judged those things or got swept up in them. And as you’re doing that and trying to listen to this preaching of Christ, remember that God has always been faithful. He upheld every covenant He made on those mountains and brought them to fulfillment. He responded to every prophet who called out to Him on those mountains. If he says that the beatitudes are the way to blessed happiness… then you can be sure that they are the values worth pursuing.
Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.