This world isn't perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes, it’s the opposite of Good. Often, it’s frustratingly bad. When everyone is seemingly coloring outside the lines, swerving into your lane, and making up their own rules as they go along (often hurting us in the process) we have to wonder whether there’s a way we can model Goodness for the world – for our own sakes as well as that of others.
The good news is that we have just such a thing: the teachings of Jesus; namely, the Sermon on the Mount.
If we had nothing of Jesus’ teachings in existence today other than the Sermon of the Mount, we would have almost all we would ever need to live our lives in a way pleasing to God and as an example for others.
These three chapters in the book of Matthew are the very core of Jesus’ message to us. And if we believe that Jesus is the man whom God chose, anointed, and sent out to us to preach how God wishes us to live and love, then these are very important chapters indeed.
The opening lines of the Sermon, the "Beatitudes," are among the best known verses in the Bible.
Many of these we remember from our youth:
"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 receive 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 others 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 they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt. 5:2-12)
Some Bible versions translate the word “Blessed” as “Happy” (the Latin word for “happy” actually is “beatitudus,” though of course Jesus didn't call them Beatitudes because he didn't speak Latin.)
But "Happy" really isn't a strong enough word in English to convey what’s meant here. "God-Blessed" may be closer, because Jesus is conveying something important about God and what God does for us.
But these statements weren't meant to be passive, cold assurance that ONE DAY our needs would be met by God and God alone. Jesus meant for us to adopt them into our own character, and to guide our actions. Further, they are the basis for the Kingdom of God, which Jesus inaugurated when he began preaching.
These teachings of Jesus are not far-off ideals, or commands we cannot keep. They are clear, bold challenges that God, through His chosen Spokesman, Jesus, tells us we can achieve.
Later in the Sermon, Jesus will tell us we must be perfect (as in perfectly complete and mature) JUST AS God is perfect. (Matt. 5:48) And, in similar language, says, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you DO them.” (John 13:17)
Jesus assures us that while we won’t be immediately morally complete, that isn’t the expectation of God. He assures us that God forgives us when we forgive others for falling short. (Matt. 6:14-15)
And this hints and the second half of each Beatitude, mirroring the pain, suffering, heartache and troubles we suffer with the comfort and love God gives to us, if we only ask Him for it.
Jesus does not allow us to make God the sole comforter, love-giver, and mercy-bestower. We have work to do, as well. Just as we must forgive others to be forgiven, we are to serve others to be served.
Following the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us that we are to be the salt and light to the world, and that we must let our light shine before others, so that they will see our good works, and praise our Father in Heaven. (Matt. 5:13-16)
We are clearly called, therefore, to be the hands of Jesus here on earth, bringing in the Kingdom of God here and now. We must do as Jesus did, and even greater things! (John 14:12)
We may draw hope from these teachings of Jesus, and they are living water for us that we can share with others in our daily lives, being the salt and light our world yearns to see.