Notes from class covering the fifth chapter of St. Matthew's gospel.
Topics are the Sermon on the Mount - Beatitudes.
Father Echert saved the punch line to the end of class and that is that the overall message of the Beatitudes is that we will be satisfied, but not here. Things will be made perfect, but not yet. Up to this point, the Israelites were expecting the Savior to come and create a glorious kingdom on earth where he would reign like a typical king and things would be perfected and they would be satisfied. When Jesus came and said, "Whoa, not so fast. Not here, not now," they were angered and this is part of the reason they sought to crucify Him.
The fifth chapter starts out with the Sermon on the Mount, which is believed to be an area just to the north of the Sea of Galilee. It was not a mountain, like Mount Sinai, but more of a hill (or even a natural amphitheater as Jeff Cavins mentioned during last year's study). Parallels are drawn between Jesus and Moses. Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the law and Jesus preaches His new law from the top of this mountain. Previously, only Moses, as the mediator, could touch the Holy Mountain or God would strike any living thing dead. Jesus is the new mediator. The previously hidden sacrifice of the temple is now far more visible and accessible. The veil will be torn in two, so there will be more access, but still the altar is holy and the priest alone is allowed on the altar and in the tabernacle (makes you pause and think about the EMHCs. If only Moses was allowed to touch the Holy Mountain and others would be struck dead, what is in store for those EMHCs that unworthily, pridefully and haphazardly distribute Communion? I wonder if they understand the GRAVITY of what they are doing and the HONOR of being in the presence of the PERFECT SACRIFICE. I am sure much is expected of them and I hope they are cognizant of it.) Although God is now more approachable and accessible, He is still to be given His rightful place.
Jesus' new law supersedes and perfects the Mosaic Law. He BUILDS, not replaces, the moral commandments of the Mosaic Law. The Old Covenant, as St. Paul says, is obsolete. The ritual law pass away, but NOT the moral laws. The prior ritual laws were there because the people needed them (like children need structure) because they had been unfaithful over and over. God set them apart for their own spiritual well-being and gave them these ritual laws to help them remain faithful. Now Jesus is coming and doing away with these rituals (more childish ways) and calling His disciples to perfection.
From our class notes, it says that Catholics see the Sermon on the Mount as a call to perfection. Others see it as an impossible ideal or an interim ethic view. The theory of the impossible ideal is a 16th century reaction to the perfectionist view and it was pronounced by, who else, Martin Luther. The Sermon on the Mount is designed to teach that the law condemns the entire human race. No human being can claim never to have gotten angry, never to have had lustful thoughts, never to have coveted, etc. Luther believed that Jesus' teachings are designed to show Christians their own inability to save themselves, and to cause Christians who realize this to throw themselves on God's mercy. Albert Schweitzer developed the interim ethic view. The Sermon on the Mount is the product of failed apocalyptic enthusiasm that imagined the kingdom of heaven to be no more than a few years away -- describing how Christians are to live while waiting for the dawn of the celestial kingdom. Schweitzer believed that the kingdom never came and that Jesus, in a strange and desperate attempt to force God's hand, got himself crucified and died without rising again. Have at 'er, there Albert.
Jesus being on the mount also parallels David and Mount Zion. Father didn't talk about this at all, but from our class notes it mentions that the OT prophets "understand the Davidic covenant to be an expansion and development of the Mosaic covenant. The covenant mediated through Moses establishes a nation, while the covenant with David establishes a kingdom to rule not only the people of Israel but all the Gentiles as well." Jesus has now come to establish His Church, which includes the Israelites and the Gentiles. Some symbolism that Father didn't mention is that the mountain is indicative of the high standards of the New Covenant. Moses brought the law down from the mountain to the people; they weren't able to ascend or meet God at His level, showing that the Old Covenant was a lower form of law and is now superseded by the New Covenant, perfected and exemplified by Jesus.
Father mentioned the Beatitudes mean blessing or even happiness, although he cautioned about interpreting it as happiness because it could lead to poor understanding. Happiness can be spiritual or temporal. The will or soul is content in having acquired some good or "rest" (these ideas are from St. Thomas' Summa Theologica). A good may NOT be an objective good (Father's example was bank robbing, the robbers are "happy" they got the loot, but it isn't a good). Sin seeks a "perceived" good or a good disproportionately. The saints were able to perceive "goods" and put them in the correct order (spiritual goods above temporal). They were willing to give up a temporal (temporary) good for a higher spiritual (eternal) good. We are given the grace and conscience to discern a false good from a true good. This is why it is important to form your conscience correctly. The Beatitudes speak about spiritual blessings - higher ordered goods (supernatural) and speak of postponing temporal blessings until we enter Heaven.
St. Luke's gospel has a similar account, often called the "Sermon on the Plain." Scholars argue whether the events are the same or not. Father mentioned that Jesus preached for three years and undoubtedly said the same thing over and over, so the accounts could be of different events. He likened it to giving a homily at three different Masses on the same day. The message would be the same, but the actual words used may differ slightly. For example, Luke's gospel account mentions, "Blessed are the poor," but Matthew's says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
As Jesus started preaching, he sat down, which is the typical posture for a Rabbi to use when teaching and speaking from authority.
An aside that Father didn't mention is that the Beatitudes follow a specific pattern, with each blessing building on the prior and the beatitude of spiritual poverty being the foundation of all the others. The first seven beatitudes correspond to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Poor in spirit means we are called to humility and aware of our need for God's grace and mercy. Wealthy or impoverished people can both be spiritually poor; spiritually dispossessed of material and worldly goods.
Those who mourn doesn't just mean mourning for the dead. It means to mourn our sins against God, humanity and original sin that brought this separation from God upon us. We are aware of the just punishment of God and accept it. Father said it could be read as those who "mourn over sin."
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Father said that this is a "condition of Heaven." We must pray for our enemies and their salvation, must forgive, not judge. He cited some passage from Shakespeare (maybe Karen will know this) in Hamlet where the murderer held off killing the King because he heard the King say a prayer of remorse and figured the King was, at that moment, in a state of grace. The murderer wanted to wait until the King was no longer in the state of grace to kill him to ensure his damnation. Pure evil!
"Blessed are the peacemakers" doesn't have much to do with being a pacifist. Father mentioned that when Jesus appeared to His apostles, He didn't get all fire and brimstone about getting back at the folks that crucified Him. The first thing He said was "Peace be with you." He was giving them God's peace and showing that through what He did, mankind can be reconciled with God and we are to spread the message of this peace (reconciliation with God) to others.
"You are the light of the world." Indicates what must happen in the Church, we must be a beacon in the world, evangelizing by our example, doing good works. The Israelites often failed and adopted the ways of the pagans around them instead of converting them, so God had to isolate them. In the Old Covenant, there were physical walls of the cities to keep the pagans/Gentiles out. In the New Covenant, there are spiritual walls that we are to use to keep out the way of the world, but we are to be examples, lights, to draw people in by what they see.
"For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." The scribes and Pharisees were the ones who most perfectly kept the covenant. They went overboard and applied the strict laws that were meant for the priests to all. Jesus is saying that they paid great attention to the temporal and we should have as much zeal for the spiritual.
Although Father didn't mention it, verses 21-48 are called the "Six Antithesis" where Jesus says, "You have heard it said...but I say to you..." Here He is showing He is the new Moses and the lawgiver of the New Covenant. Within these verses, Father said, it shows we will be judged for INTENTION too, not just actions as in the Old Covenant. More is given in the New Covenant and more is expected. There is a new standard and God will provide the grace to resist.
Verse 22 uses the word "fool" but Father said the correct translation is moron. You are not to call someone a moron (which comes from the Greek "moronos" or something phonetically like that!) but even St. Paul calls unfaithful people "fools" in Corinthians.
In verse 38, it says "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." This is OT justice and was perfectly acceptable to God. It did limit what you could do, since you were only allowed one tooth, not two, for that would be vengeance. The punishment had to fit the crime. The New Covenant tells you to turn the other cheek. We are now called to charity, which transcends justice. God will take care of the justice, we are to concern ourselves with charity.
Next week we don't have class, but come back the following Thursday for Chapter Six.