Matthew 5:1-12

Readings:

Psalm 37
Matthew 5:1-6
Matthew 5:7-12

Devotion 1

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, allowing space for God’s voice to be heard.

Read: Psalm 37

This psalm serves as a backdrop for reading the Beatitudes. In it, the writer speaks of the threat, or most likely the reality, of losing their land. In agrarian societies such as that of ancient Israel, land was the basis for life—to own land was essential for producing food and sustaining life. The importance of this is reflected in the way that land was spoken of as an “inheritance” from God, not something which could be bought or sold. Taking someone’s land, then, was seen as an offence against God (1 Kings 21:1-16), one that the prophet Isaiah spoke harshly against:

“Woe to you who add house to house

and join field to field

till no space is left

and you live alone in the land” (Isaiah 5:8).

Five times in Psalm 37 the psalmist speaks of those who “shall inherit the land.” They are “those who wait for the Lord (vs 9), the meek (v 11), “those blessed by the Lord” (v 22) and the righteous (v 29) and those who “keep to his way (34). They are statements of trust in God, and at the same time exhortations to the people to respond to their unjust dispossession of the land nonviolently: “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil (Ps 37:8). The psalmist believes that, even though they have been mistreated and oppressed, God will put things right.

Reflect:

  • Read Psalm 37 through together. What words or phrases stand out to you? Speak them out in the group.
  • In what ways do you see that this reading reflects current global realities? How does this reading reflect your context?
  • How might you respond to God’s promise that the “meek shall inherit the land” this week?
  • How do you hear God’s voice today’s reading?

Pray

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

Devotion 2

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, aware of God’s presence in a broken world.

Read: Matthew 5:1-6

Before reading through today’s reading, we need to once again remember the situation of Matthew’s community. They are a vulnerable, struggling community in an urban setting—many think probably Antioch in Syria—who are most likely made up of Jewish refugees and those who have lost their land in Galilee. They are part of a people subjugated and exploited by the Roman empire, and looked down upon by their fellow Jews from Jerusalem as “impure”.

To them, Matthew’s Jesus brings the words which we call “the Beatitudes”, beginning with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v 3). Isaiah 61:1 speaks of “good news to the poor”, with the sense that the poor are not only those without economic resources, but those who are humble, oppressed, downtrodden and meek. It is amongst these that God’s reign—the way that people might live together in the way that God wants—might be found.

We have seen how life under the crushing policies of empire can bring great suffering to those caught under its wheels. Here, though, Jesus proclaims “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (v 4). God is a God who comforts, the word reassures. Moreover, in the last of Jesus’ five speeches in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus paints a picture of how God’s comfort might be lived out in Christ-centred communities—as communities feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, take care of the sick and visit those in prison (Mt 25:35-36).

For those who have lost their land, Jesus brings hope: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land” (v 5). There were many revolts in first-century Palestine over worsening economic conditions which led to peasants being stripped of their ancestral lands. As we will see, Jesus doesn’t exhort his followers to non-resistance of such conditions. We are not to be “doormats” accepting unjust rule—such stances have enabled much tyranny throughout history. Rather, he calls his followers to non-violent resistance. This is what it is to be meek—to “refrain from anger, and forsake wrath” (Ps 37:8).

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled” (v6). It is not difficult to imagine Matthew’s community—many who perhaps had been dragged into courts with unpaid debts—as those who desperately sought after justice. Not the kind of justice which the rulers commonly envisaged, mind you. Their idea of justice was the kind confronted by Isaiah:

“Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,

who write oppressive statutes,

to turn aside the needy from justice

and to rob the poor of my people of their right,

that widows may be your spoil,

and that you may make the orphans your prey! (Isa 10:1-2)

“Justice” in Isaiah’s day, Walter Brueggemann says, was “practice of social exploitation by the manipulation of the legal process. The prophet understands—long before Karl Marx—that “law making” is the privilege of the powerful, most often done to their own advantage. The writing of law turns out to be “the writing of oppression” whereby exploitation of the vulnerable—widows and orphans—is completely legal.”2

No doubt, justice was no different in Matthew’s day. But to this community, Jesus says, God will hear their cries for justice—real justice, not the “justice” practiced by the powerful—and God will vindicate.

Reflect:

  • Read verses 3-6 again together. Are there phrases that stand out to you? Why?
  • Do any of the Beatitudes in verses 3-6 speak into your own situation? Do they speak into the situations of your neighbourhood?

Pray: Use the verses from today’s reading to pray for each other, neighbours and the neighbourhood.

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

 1. The Greek word dikaiosynē is usually translated righteousness in the New Testament. However, it’s meaning is closer to what we mean by justice.

2. Walter Brueggemann, Isaiah 1-39 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998), 90.

Devotion 3

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of repentance together, aware of our inadequacy and God’s grace.

Read: Matthew 5:7-12

Today we continue reflecting on the Beatitudes, picking up at verse 7: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Though personal forgiveness and reconciliation are certainly to be practiced (Mt 18:15-35), what is in view in this beatitude is primarily economic:

“What the religious leaders fail to understand is that a merciful God is not pleased by religion that prevents people from eating with outcasts (9:10-13) or, for that matter, from eating, period (12:1-7). Although the cancellation of debt in 18:33 certainly symbolizes forgiveness of sins (18:21-22), we should not pass too quickly over the immediate, literal sense: economic relief (6:12).”3

Matthew’s community is blessed as it practices mercy—forgiving debts and including those who are unable to meet the demands of tithing demanded by the religious elite (Mt 23:23). For those who are now landless, practicing mercy means that they won’t perpetuate exploitative systems.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (v 8). Purity of heart in the fifth beatitude is commonly understood as integrity—being without deceit (Ps 24:4) or having “inward roots and outward fruits.”4  Those who have integrity “will see God.” We might further comprehend its meaning by considering those who don’t “see”. In Matthew 23, Matthew’s Jesus delivers seven “woes” to those who meticulously tithe (Mt 23:23) and keep purity laws (Mt 23:25), while neglecting to live out “justice, mercy and faith” (Mt 23:23). Twice they are called blind (Mt 23:16, 26).

Whether these scribes and Pharisees represent the religious elite of Jerusalem who despised the Galilean peasants in Jesus’ time, or the Jewish leaders of rival communities in Antioch, the point is the same for Matthew’s community—those who despise the peasants of Galilee or the landless of Antioch because of their inability to properly tithe or keep purity laws are blind. What matters are justice, mercy and faith. It is by practicing these that people are reckoned “pure”.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (v8). In Jesus; day ‘spreading peace’ meant subjecting other peoples to Roman dominion, the Pax Romana.”5 The Pax Romana was imperial propaganda proclaiming the “Peace of Rome”. But those on the underside knew and experienced this “peace” differently—it was won and maintained at the point of a sword. Matthew’s Gospel, however, holds a vision of peace which is vastly different to Rome’s, one where “peace is closely tied to the doing of justice, God’s will, that ensures access to adequate resources and protection from the greedy and oppressive.”6  Peacemakers in Matthew are those who love their enemies (Mt 5:44), and, following Jesus’ way of the cross, refuse the way of violence even when it means enduring it.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” v 9). The eighth beatitude acknowledges that those in Matthew’s community could expect to face persecution as they lived out justice in the way the Beatitudes and Matthew’s Gospel as a whole envisage. “The empire”, says Carter, “will certainly strike back.”7  As they lived out God’s love and justice, and as they challenged current power relations which worked for the exploitation of the poor and the concentration of landholdings in the hands of the elite, they could expect that the powerful would act to protect their interests. But as they faced persecution, the eighth beatitude affirmed that they stood in the tradition of the prophets before them—working with God in dismantling the way things are and, with creativity, courage and faith, bringing in the way God wants things to be.

Reflect:

  • Read verses 3-6 again together. Are there phrases that stand out to you? Why?
  • In what ways do these verses challenge you in the way that you engage in community life?

Pray for each other

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 3. Mark Allan Powell, “Matthew’s Beatitudes: Reversals and Rewards of the Kingdom,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 58, no. 3 (Jul 1996): 471.

 4. Glen H. Stassen, Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance (San Fransisco: Jossey Bass, 2006), Kindle loc. 1042.

 5. Michael H. Crosby, Spirituality of the Beatitudes: Matthew’s Vision for the Church in an Unjust World, Revised ed. (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2005), 59.

 6. Warren Carter, Matthew and Empire: Initial Explorations (Harrisburg: Trinity, 2001), 33.

 7. Carter, Matthew and the Margins, 136.

 

Devotion 4

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of gratitude together, giving thanks for the ways you’ve experienced God’s loving kindness.

This week’s Common Value: Reconciliation

Read: Micah 4:1-5

Ask: How might we practice the radical inclusion of Jesus today?

Pray

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer