The “Deep Wisdom” of the Beatitudes (1 of 9)

The Sermon on the Mount, Carl Bloch, 1890

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:1-12

Like Moses, Jesus gives divine teaching from a mountain, while the people wait at the bottom. The 8 “Blessed”s or Beatitudes are the beginning of this teaching, known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), just as the 10 Commandments begin the giving of the Mosaic Law.

The meaning of the Sermon, and especially the Beatitudes, are discovered in knowing Christ and following him. It is a higher path, a “deep wisdom” offered by Christ to all those with the eyes to see. 

That these teachings constitute a more exalted way, is evident in the whole of the  Sermon (You heard it said … But I say to you…), and is also seen in Christ’s encounter with the rich young man (Matt 19:16-22). There, the man asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus gives him some of the Commandments. But he also tells him that, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor … and come follow me.”

The Commandments (do not kill, do not steal, honor your father and mother, etc.) are a foundation and the Beatitudes are built upon it. The Commandments are clear: do this, don’t do that. The beatitudes concern inner dispositions who’s implications are not fully understood without intimate knowledge of the one who teaches them. You know what it is to be poor in spirit by knowing the humility of Christ who took human flesh though he was in the form of God. You know what it is to hunger and thirst for righteousness by knowing how Christ yearned to complete his mission, and saw doing the will of God as his bread. You know what it is to mourn by knowing how Christ wept over the hard spiritual blindness of his people, and over his dead friend Lazarus. And so on, with the rest of the Beatitudes. Through the Word of God, through the Sacraments, through prayer, and through greater obedience to His will, we come to know Christ intimately, and understand the “deep wisdom” that is the way of Christ.

How does the deep wisdom of the Beatitudes prepare us for the work of evangelization? In future posts we will explore this question, one Beatitude at a time. Stay tuned!

Read “Deep Wisdom” Part Two.

Author: Mr. Mark J Hornbacher, OP

Mark is the Vice President of Programs and Director of Theology at St. Paul Street Evangelization. He has a MA in Theology and a B.Phil from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and a BA in Theology from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI. With Steve Dawson, he is the co-author of Ordinary Christians, Extraordinary Signs: Healing in Evangelization. He is a lay Dominican, and resides in Sterling Heights, MI with his wife Gayle, and their three sons.

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