Jesus called his first disciples in last week’s gospel. The concluding verses of Matthew’s fourth chapter set the stage for the opening of this morning’s gospel. Here they are, as a reminder.

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat …mending their nets, and he called them. Immediatelythey left the boat and their father, and followed him. 

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease sickness among the people. So his fame spread … and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. (Matt 4:18-26) 

Jesus attracted fishermen, sick people, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics…people who enjoyed no status in society. Many of them were probably regarded as sinners who were being punished. They may have even thought this of themselves. His invitation, the strength of his personality...and yes, his miracles… were so compelling that his first disciples had responded immediately to him and great crowds followed him.


The gospel for Sunday January 29th (Matt 5:1-12) opens at this point.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 

The crowds were enamoured by Jesus, attracted to his personality, hopeful for some relief from sickness, injury or possession for themselves or people they loved. There may have also been a few religious leaders, intrigued by his fresh interpretations of scripture. 
Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

I imagine that he made eye-contact with individuals as he spoke these words. He knew they were socially and economically marginalized, yet he called them blessed. In case they missed the point, he named the poor, mourners and meek, specifically. He was saying, ‘No matter what other people think of you, I tell you that you are blessed.’ He repeated Blessed each time and made them feel special.

If they believed that they were somehow to blame for their situations or that God was indifferent to their poverty, sadness, and meekness he told them that ‘No! They were God’s beloved.’ Hearing from this holy man that they were blessed must have been an Epiphany moment, a way of seeing themselves in a totally different light.

To his disciples, who had recently joined him, looking around at the crowd, hearing Jesus’ message of almost revolutionary blessings, they must have wondered about what their future would hold. This prophet was unlike any other they had ever heard.


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, sometimes raises eyebrows. Poor in Spirit has to do with attachments to material things and questing after them. A person who is destitute can still be obsessed with gaining material things in a way that distorts his or her life. 

On the other hand, a rich person can be indifferent to their possessions and share their wealth. People can live more modestly than their affluence would permit, giving to church or charity and reducing their ecological footprint on the planet. To those in his audience…scribes and pharisees…who might have enjoyed more of life’s material benefits Jesus invited them to a life of voluntary simplicity.


Jesus continued, 
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Righteousness occurs twice, explicitly, in this series. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… and Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… Righteousness is right-relationship with God and neighbour. It is a form of justice. A paraphrase of these two blessings might be ‘blessed are those who advocate for justice, and who are persecuted for it.’ Whether the advocacy is for housing, fair wages, social support, equity of treatment for minorities or the environment, God values activism on behalf of these attempts to build up the kingdom as blessed.

In the concluding beatitude Jesus acknowledges that this kind of holy advocacy will come at a cost, 
‘Blessed are you when people 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 in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Disrupting a status quo that favours the rich and powerful who disdain justice, righteousness and holiness is bound to meet resistance, even abuse and persecution. 


The beatitude ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God, is sometimes understood narrowly as referring to sexual purity. It can be that, but, in its fuller sense, it refers to integrity. It means consciously choosing to live with the best interests of those with whom we are interacting and being honest, and simultaneously kind, in relationships. Stated negatively, one does not misrepresent, as care, one’s base intentions in order to manipulate others. 

Living with purity of heart is also a form of righteousness or right relationship to God and others.  


I wonder if the people who heard Jesus speak recalled the Psalmist’s verses as they felt lifted by his words and attention:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; (Psalm 19:7-8)


  • How does one live poor in spirit? Is it sharing your time, talents and money? Do you opt to forego things that would be nice but that you don’t really need? Do you consciously choose to minimize your footprint on the planet?
  • Does the description of pure of heart differ from what you had understood? Does it expand your idea of purity of heart? Does it set a different standard? Does it embrace your understanding?
  • How do you think people reacted to Jesus’ telling them that they were blessed? Did they sit quietly and think about their lives differently? Did it make them smile at being valued this way by this holy man? Was this an epiphany for them?
  • What synonym would you use for blessed? Holy? Happy? Beloved? Graced? Smiled on by God? Special, Valued, Something else?