Translation Louise Thunin
The Beatitudes open the first of Jesus’ five teachings in the gospel of Matthew. What is their impact on the whole of the Gospel ? Is there an order in these Beatitudes ? My hypothesis is that the first Beatitude has special importance. The surprise of the opening words sets forth their newness–as with creation–and sets the tone : « the poor in spirit », an expression used only by Matthew, which implies being destitute.
Indeed, to be poor in spirit doesn’t mean one lacks intelligence (the term pneuma refers to breath, to that which animates the living), but which, of itself, is poor, which consents to leave room to be inhabited and animated by the breath of God, source of all life. To accept this poverty is to accept life as a gift, in terms of gratitude and happiness. This poverty is positive: it is a way to salvation, a road for life. It is the way of God himself in the movement of incarnation, which is to first give and then to welcome what comes. For a human being, who is not her own source, the movement is first to receive before she can give. It is the condition of the disciple who discovers himself in Christ, daughter or son of the One Father. For it is indeed the question of filiation that the gospel of Matthew poses. The evangelist shows how the One and only beloved of the Father renders, in turn, his disciple a son or a daughter through saying ” yes » to life.
This “ yes“, to which all are called, constitutes the community of disciples. The “ they”of the Beatitudes designates ”Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them“ (…). Mt. 7 : 24. Jesus declares them blessed. It is in relation to his words that they are blessed. It is not a fact nor a relationship, but a manifestation of his word. It is in receiving this pronouncement of his that they are blessed. And this declaration is a commitment for them. The Beatitudes have an ethical dimension.
To consent to “this life,” to enter this filiation, is a life choice (Mt. 10 : 37-38). It is a question of following the unique One who is ahead of us; that is why Jesus climbs the mountain, not to pray, but to teach.
How shall we receive these words of happiness without feeling there is scorn and denial of a reality made up of suffering, of grief ? This declaration of happiness comes from Easter. It fully integrates human reality as it is experienced without rejecting anything. But this is not ulitmate Reality. Something else is coming. And so we must reread the Gospel, beginning at the end. In Matthew ‘s gospel, the crucifixion is not only the passage from death to life but also a birth, an act of cosmic creation, as certain elements of the passion narrative suggest (Mt. 27 : 51-53): the veil is rent, the earth quakes, rocks split, tombs open, bodies awaken, come out, are rendered visible. This only son opens the way to other sons and daughters of the Father in heaven,. To follow him partakes of and is possible only through the filiation accomplished by the One. It is not merely a question of following him who precedes us but to live from what he accomplished and continues to accomplish.
For turning back is impossible: the one who was crucified now lives. The passageway has been opened, henceforth the heavens are open. This is why all the Beatitudes which speak of heaven are in the present (verses 3, 10, 12). To the only son, the heavens were opened at the time of his baptism, henceforth to them (i.e. those of the same filiation who follow him), the kingdom of heaven is open. Both proposals of the Beatitude call to each other. Each explains the other. The other Beatitudes, in the future tense, indicate a becoming that we must welcome, since the only One is the first-born among the dead. Therefore there are yet to come the second-born, the third-born…in the same filiation.
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