Lectionary Year A
January 31, 1999
Matthew 5:1-12

Step V: Hermeneutical Bridge


5:1 And having seen the crowds he went up into the mountain, and when (gen. absolute) he had sat down his disciples came to him 2 and having opened his mouth he was teaching them [beginning with words about blessing] saying,

3 "God's blessing sustains the poor by means of the Spirit*
      because God wills the kingdom (reign?) of the heavens to be theirs.
4 God's blessing sustains people with grieving hearts
      because God shall be present comforting (advocating for?) them.
5 God's blessing sustains those who choose the gentle way
      because God shall give them their place on earth as inheritance.
6 God's blessing sustains those who have a hunger and a thirst for righteousness
      because God shall provide their food and drink.
7 God's blessing sustains people who live mercifully (toward others?)
      because God shall also be merciful toward them.
8 God's blessing sustains the pure by means of the heart
      because God shall grant them the vision of the divine.
9 God's blessing sustains those who make peace the end of their lives
      because they shall be called by the name of God's Son.
10 God's blessing sustains those who are subject to attack for doing the right thing
      because God wills the kingdom (reign?) of the heavens to be theirs.

11 God's blessing sustains you all whenever people deride you and attack you and say a thoroughly evil thing against you, making false remarks about you on my account! 12 You all rejoice and exult because the recompense of you all will be much in the heavens, for thus they attacked the prophets who were before you all."

* J.C. O'Neill in the article "New Testament Monasteries" (Common Life in the Early Church, p.123) also sees in the first Beatitude a reference to the Holy Spirit but takes it as modifying poor, i.e., poor of the Spirit, which he understands as God's last day warriors. He believes the Greek reflects the Hebrew construct chain as in Hosea 9:7 (which reads "the man of the spirit" AJ). I take the modification to support the means of blessing itself.

[Note: The insertion of God's active agency in this translation is based on the assumption that the majority of the passive constructions fall under the grammatical category of passivum divinum and upon a decision about the genre of the whole as being as much akin to that of prayerful supplication/declaratory benedictum "may God bless you..." as to that of didactic assertion. There are, of course, other risks taken for the sake of prompting further discussion of original intent in dialogue with contemporary English language meaning].


Reading the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount again, I am reminded of a choral piece by the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. It is called "The Beatitudes." The movement of the music starts slowly, a cappella, and continuously advances to where the organ sets in at the very end (rejoice and be exceedingly glad), as if to set an exclamation mark behind/under the promises uttered beforehand, and as if to exhort the listener to rejoice because of the truthfulness and reliability of these, God's, promises.

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