When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.
Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The word poor seems to represent an Aramaic ‘ányâ (Hebrew ‘anî), bent down, afflicted, miserable, poor; while meek is rather a synonym from the same root, ‘ánwan (Hebrew ‘ánaw), bending oneself down, humble, meek, gentle. Some scholars would attach to the former word also the sense of humility; others think of “beggars before God” humbly acknowledging their need of Divine help. But the opposition of “rich” (Luke 6:24) points especially to the common and obvious meaning, which, however, ought not to be confined to economical need and distress, but may comprehend the whole of the painful condition of the poor: their low estate, their social dependence, their defenceless exposure to injustice from the rich and the mighty. Besides the Lord’s blessing, the promise of the heavenly kingdom is not bestowed on the actual external condition of such poverty. Theblessed ones are the poor “in spirit“, who by their free will are ready to bear for God’s sake this painful andhumble condition, even though at present they be actually rich and happy; while on the other hand, the reallypoor man may fall short of this poverty “in spirit“.
Inasmuch as poverty is a state of humble subjection, the “poor in spirit“, come near to the “meek”, the subject of the secondblessing. The anawim, they who humbly and meekly bend themselves down before God and man, shall “inherit the land” and possess their inheritance in peace. This is a phrase taken from Psalm 36:11, where it refers to the Promised Land of Israel, but here in the words of Christ, it is of course but a symbol of theKingdom of Heaven, the spiritual realm of the Messiah. Not a few interpreters, however, understand “the earth”. But they overlook the original meaning of Psalm 36:11, and unless, by a far-fetched expedient, they take the earth also to be a symbol of the Messianic kingdom, it will be hard to explain the possession of the earth in a satisfactory way.
The “mourning” in the Third Beatitude is in Luke (6:25) opposed to laughter and similar frivolous worldly joy. Motives of mourning are not to be drawn from the miseries of a life of poverty, abjection, and subjection, which are the very blessings of verse 3, but rather from those miseries from which the pious man is suffering in himself and in others, and most of all the tremendous might ofevil throughout the world. To such mourners theLord Jesus carries the comfort of the heavenly kingdom, “the consolation ofIsrael” (Luke 2:25) foretold by theprophets, and especially by the Book of Consolation of Isaias (11-16). Even the later Jewsknew the Messiah by the name of Menahhem, Consoler. These three blessings, poverty, abjection, and subjection are a commendation of what nowadays are called the passive virtues: abstinence and endurace, and the Eighth Beatitude (verse 10) leads us back again to the teaching.
The others, however, demand a more active behaviour. First of all, “hunger and thirst” after justice: a strong and continuous desire of progress in religious and moral perfection, the reward of which will be the very fulfilment of the desire, the continuous growth in holiness.
From this interior desire a further step should be taken to acting to the works of “mercy”, corporal and spiritual. Through these the merciful will obtain the Divine mercy of the Messianic kingdom, in this life and in the final judgment. The wonderful fertility of the Church in works and institutions of corporal and spiritual mercy of every kind shows the prophetical sense, not to say the creative power, of this simple word of the Divine Teacher.
According to biblical terminology, “cleanness of heart” (verse 8) cannot exclusively be found in interiorchastity, nor even, as many scholars propose, in a genral purity of conscience, as opposed to the Levitical, or legal, purity required by the Scribes andPharisees. At least the proper place of such a blessing does not seem to be between mercy (verse 7) and peacemaking (verse 9), nor after the apparently more far-reaching virtue of hunger and thirst after justice. But frequently in the Old and New Testaments (Genesis 20:5; Job 33:3, Psalms 23:4 (24:4) and 72:1 (73:1); 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:22) the “pure heart” is the simple and sincere goodintention, the “single eye” of Matthew 6:22, and thus opposed to the unavowed by-ends of thePharisees(Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18; 7:15; 23:5-7, 14) This “single eye” or “pure heart” is most of all required in the works of mercy(verse 7) and zeal (verse 9) in behalf of one’s neighbor. And it stands to reason that the blessing, promised to this continuous looking for God’s glory, should consist of the supernatural “seeing” of God Himself, the last aim and end of the heavenly kingdomin its completion.
The “peacemakers” (verse 9) are those who not only live in peace with others but moreover do their best to preserve peace and friendship among mankind and between God and man, and to restore it when it has been disturbed. It is on account of this godly work, “an imitating of God’s love of man” as St. Gregory of Nyssa styles it, that they shall be called the sons of God, “children of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:45).
So, by an inclusion, not uncommon in biblical poetry, the last blessing goes back to the first and the second. The pious, whose sentiments and desires whose works and sufferings are held up before us, shall be blessed andhappy by their share in theMessianic kingdom, here and hereafter. And viewed in the intermediate verses seem to express, in partial images of the oneendless beatitude, the same possession of the Messianic salvation. The eight conditions required constitute the fundamental lawof the kingdom, the very pith and marrow of Christian perfection. For its depth and breadth of thought, and its practical bearing on Christian life, the passage may be put on a level with the Decalogue in the Old, and the Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament, and it surpassed both in its poetical beauty of structure.