Jesus’ disciples, those first fishers of men were certainly rewarded in what they witnessed early on. Jesus was on a tour of Galilee. He was invited to speak in synagogues, he preached, he cured the sick, and his reputation continued to expand. People from all over the area brought their sick to him and he cured all of them of every kind of malady. Great crowds actually followed him, coming from Jerusalem and all the known locations around, but the fishermen were his men. These were days of euphoria!
The Gospel reads as if all this activity happened in a single day. Matthew says, “when Jesus saw the crowd….” Maybe he was just so preoccupied with all those in need that he didn’t notice the huge following he now had. However, it more likely reads that ‘now that there was such a crowd following him, Jesus went up above them on an elevation and took the opportunity to speak to them.’ It might also be a way of saying that now, as his ministry began, he took the opportunity of this large, docile following to lay out what the kingdom meant. He centered the message on his listeners. He caught them up immediately by telling them what was in it for them, why this was crucial and how it involved them. He laid out what are known as the beatitudes. These are the description of the blessed, the attitudes or keys to the promised kingdom – promised, and in fact, right in their midst. Not solely of the future, but life beginning now.
These statements are so simple and in-your-face that they can actually elude us. They can be read through as if they were only poetic platitudes, or on the contrary, too distant or too difficult to be meaningful in the here and now. The beatitudes are an individual and collective description of membership in the Kingdom. They are a very easy set of guidelines for being a follower of Christ (which by the way is not a passive thing – we can no longer come along for the ride, to enjoy the hype and sympathize with the troubled times). This is us! We are Christ! So the beatitudes, this description set out by Jesus is something very real and very now!
In Matthew every beatitude begins with the word “blessed”, that is, happy with finality. It is not a happiness that is here now and gone tomorrow. This is abiding happiness; this is joy. Not giddy, not untested and unpestered happiness, but enduring, deep, and eternal. It means to have the hand of God resting on you. Here and hereafter are one.
In the real (liturgical) world, we are entering the fifth week of Lent. We are a bit more serious now because next Sunday is Passion Sunday and the climax of the Lenten Season follows. If I may make a suggestion: pick up your Bible and turn to the beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12). Spend a little time reflecting on how the beatitudes define the life of Jesus right up to the Cross, and then how they define your life as well.