Matt. 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23
The Beatitudes contain Jesus Christ's doctrine of happiness. A strange doctrine it must sound to worldly ears! It seems a series of paradoxes, or even contradictions, amounting together to a declaration that the miserable are the happy. Nowhere does the boldness of the preacher of Galilee appear more conspicuously than in the opening sentences of the Sermon on the Mount.
This man has faith in the power of his Gospel to cope with every evil. He speaks as one who has Good News for all classes of men, and for all possible conditions. There is no human experience which Jesus regards with despair, and his doctrine is as original as it is bold.
It is not to be confounded with that of any philosophical school. It is not Stoicism. The Stoic preached submission to misery as inevitable, and offered to his disciples the peace of despair. Jesus looks on evil as something that can be transmuted into good, and all sufferers have a hope, a reward, an outlook. It is not mere optimism, however. The optimist denies evil or explain It away, and thinks to cure human misery by fine praises.
Jesus admits the evil that is in the world, And speak of it in plain terms; only, unlike the pessimist, he declines to regard it as final and unsurmountable.
The kind of happiness that Jesus offers is obviously something different. Its both novel and peculiar. When he says blessed are the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, he means either that they are blessed In spite of their misery or that they are blessed through their misery. In either case, the blessedness must be something different from what the world usually counts as happiness, something in the soul. Jesus invites us to reach felicity by the method of inwardness, Representing it as within the reach of all, just because that is the way to it.
These sayings on happiness prefixed to the Sermon on the Mount might have formed a part of the sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth on the Acceptable Year of the Lord. It is only once written in the gospel narrative, but they might have been spoken by him many times. They would have served to show the nature of his message. They might have been, and probably were, themes sounded by Jesus many times in his ministry.
They are certainly among the most characteristic utterances of the new era of Hope. It has been remarked of the Sermon on the Mount that it seems to be a mixture of two distinct sorts of doctrine, one specially suited for the ears of disciples, and the other such as would more suitably be addressed to the multitude.
In the judgment of critics, the former kind of doctrine predominates, so that the Sermon may be represented as a disciple-discourse with popular elements, interspersed.
There is a certain amount of truth in this view, and the mixture, discernible throughout, is traceable at the commencement. Some of the Beatitudes are for all of humanity, while some are spoken specifically for the benefit of the disciples.
One set seems specifically for the woes of humanity at large, another brings consolation for the tribulations of Believers. The distinction is most apparent in Luke's version of the Sermon. There, three Beatitudes are spoken to the hungry, the poor, those that weep; then follows one comprehensive Beatitude for the faithful servants of the Kingdom suffering for truth and righteousness.
It was necessary that there should be Beatattudes for both. No Gospel is complete, which has no consolations for both ordinary suffering mortals and those saints who were already battling moral evil.
In Luke's version of the discourse, they seem to refer to literal poverty, hunger, and sorrow. Christ Jesus appears there, saying, "Blessed are you poor;” “Blessed are you that hunger now;” “Blessed are you who weep now.”
In Matthew's version, the terms employed to describe the classes addressed in the two first sentences have attached to them qualifying phrases which make the characteristics spiritual, and limit the scope of the sayings, turning them in fact into special Beatitudes pertaining to the children of the Kingdom.
If the question is asked: which of the two forms is the more original? Our judgment inclines to that of Luke. Speaking generally, the more pregnant, kernel-like form of any saying of Jesus is always the more likely to have been likely to have been that actually used by Him. The briefer, less developed form is most in keeping with the striking originality of His teaching.
Jesus, as befits the Sage, loved short, suggestive sentences, revealing much, hiding much, arresting the attention of the memory, provoking thought, demanding explanation.
(Adapted from the book "Galilean Gospel" by Dr. Aleander Balmain Bruce, 1882)