I thought I would share today something that I noticed last night during my quiet time, as I dwelled on Jesus’ opening statements in Matt. 5:1-12 (sermon on the mount). In this introduction, Jesus issues a number of remarks beginning with ‘Blessed are …’ (e.g. blessed are the meek). All, interestingly, are appositional parallelisms (e.g. blessed are those who MOURN for they shall be COMFORTED). (More on that later). Jesus, in these opening lines gives eight statements about who is blessed, describing four people who are in pain or lacking something, and another four who are not in pain and are not lacking:
THOSE WITHOUT THOSE WITH
- blessed are the poor in spirit - blessed are the meek
- blessed are those who mourn - blessed are the merciful
- blessed are those thirsting and hungering - blessed are the pure in heart
- blessed are those who are persecuted – blessed are the peacemakers
for righteousness’ sake
Once I wrote this down I noticed another curiosity, that the ones without peace are blessed while the ones making peace are also blessed. Matt 5:1-12 is very much a multi-layered piece!
But what is also intriguing is that the Sermon on the Mount is THE re-giving (or re-interpretation and fulfillment) of the Mosaic Law. This is true, but the opening intro does not initially read like the Old Testament Law. For instance, the 10 Commandments, the pinnacle of the Jewish Torah, are a list of strict imperatives (e.g. you SHALL NOT falsely accuse your neighbour), most of them negative. Yet the Sermon on the Mount does not begin like this at all; Jesus does not say, for instance, You shall hunger and thirst for righteousness to be blessed. Rather, they are observations about patterns of human life.
Tellingly, the only places in the Old Testament where neat and tidy parallelisms are written are Psalms (where the expression the meek will inherit the earth comes from, 37:11); Ecclesiastes (e.g. it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, 7:1-4); and particularly Proverbs (e.g. Hatred stirs up conflicts, but love covers all offences, Prov. 10:12). Yet Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs not of the Torah (Law) genre, but of the Wisdom genre. This is not altogether surprising because in Deuteronomy 4:6, the Mosaic stipulations are described as both law and wisdom. So although Jesus is re-telling the Law, He is doing so as wisdom, which is all the more incredible because rather than being a daunting list of dos and don’ts, they are a list of invitations to be something. They are descriptions of states that result in blessing, rather than actions to invoke blessings. I found that incredible because they produce, for me, places of being to aim for rather than an onerous schedule of tasks to perform to guarantee righteousness. After all, a person cannot merely conjure up a ‘thirst for righteousness’- that takes time and a series of choices. It’s like Jesus is giving the end goals and then allowing the listeners to make their own choices about how to get there.
I wanted to share this because the Spirit lead me to it and had me in awe at what Jesus said when He opened his mouth to give the greatest ethical speech in human history. May it edify others too :)