Brothers and sisters,
Together with the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, the Beatitudes are the two great Measures of Man. But whereas the Ten Commandments are centred on doing, on what you shall, and shall not do, whether or not we do the right things.
The Beatitudes are centred on being. On what we are. On whether or not we are what we should be.These two measures are not in conflict with each other, on the contrary: they are in need of each other. One measure alone cannot fully inform our lives.
Starting from the Ten Commandments, we can say these are a set of rules, things you may or may not do. The good thing about rules is of course that we have a perfectly clear framework for our actions. We can say to ourselves, and sometimes we may accidentally let slip to other people: “that’s not quite honouring your father and mother there, should do better”, or perhaps you’ve caught yourself out coveting your neighbours’ ox, or his Porsche as it may be. This will not do. Should do better. The realisation that we should do better is a good first step towards a better life.
So far so good.
However: Rules only get you so far. You can abide by rules without having any good intent, or worse, you can follow the letter of the law without being in any way taken up in its spirit. You may eventually come tot he point where you fulfill the law by breaking it. Jesus mentions a situation where a child can cheat his parents out of material support that he’d otherwise be obliged to provide, by declaring his goods “korban”, theoretical property of the Temple. You can fulfill the law, and still be an awful person, worthy of contempt.
So to the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes, that we have read here, are a list of character traits for the most part. Being ‘clean of heart’, being ‘merciful’, ‘thirsting and hungering for justice’, those are character traits and motivations. They are the foundations of the moral life. But they too cannot be embraced in isolation.
If we were to look back on someone’s life, someone who – let’s say – was never caught doing anything nice or pleasant – and someone were to say to us. Ah, yes, Jimmy. Let’s call him Jimmy. Yes, he didn`t do very many nice things, but I`m sure deep down he was pure of heart”. I think we should not jump to conclusions, but it would be odd to say the least, to claim that you can be pure of heart and do all sorts of nasty things to other people. It’s a bit of a stretch, I`m sure you’ll agree.
Our deepest motivations and our character traits are not isolated things, they are not little gardens of pure beauty that bloom in the deepest recesses of our hearts.No. Both a character and a motivation are directed at our actions, at our daily lives. And what we do affects them, it strengthens them, or weakens them as it may. By doing good things we may grow as people. Our characters become stronger every day. We will grow in happiness. Or the other way around, if we do evil things, we weaken our charcter, it will become harder to doo good things. We will become unhappy people.
It will simply not do to be called ‘merciful’ and not do anything merciful, to not fulfill the ten commandments in a merciful way. You cannot be a called a ‘peacemaker’ if that epithet is not backed up with some actual making of peace. All of these character traits are good things. Even being “poor in spirit”, because it means no more than “not being full of yourself”. Having a bloated ego, always looking out for number one, it makes you empty, it’s makes you a grasping person, always clutching, never holding. It’ll always slip through your fingers. You end up invidious, dissatisfied. A terrible thing to be.
Sin makes unhappy, virtue and good deeds in turn, render the virtuous person happy. It is unavoidable. It is what we were created for. To be good people, if we’re not, our conscience will begin to chew away at ourselves. If we do good, we can find peace even after a disaster strikes.
Happiness does not mean no bad things will happen. Or that you will not mourn, or find things lacking. But you can still end up blessed. Blessed means more than happy. Happiness is what we find in the world, together with all the good things that are in it. Being blessed means all good things and the people hoping fort hem are directed towards their one true source: God.
When the Gospel says “blessed they who hunger and thirst for justice”, well this is not “jam tomorrow”, this is not a fob. It’s all quite real. Everything that’s good, all happiness, comes from God, there cannot be anything good that does not find its origins in God.
People know this, and have always known it, which is why they came to listen to Jesus on the Mount from all over. The north of Galilee, the northern shore of the Lake of Galilee where all of this takes place was – and is today – a borderland. Nowadays there are fences, but then, people came from all around to hear Jesus speak. And they weren`t just Jews, a lot of people came down from what is now Syria and Jordan – the Greek speaking cities of the Decapolis.
In a time where travel was difficult and tiring it was a testimony that people realized where their true happiness lay, in listening to the words of Jesus Christ, and through Faith in Him and what He had to say , to do good things, and so become the good and blessed people we have been called to be from all Eternity.