The Theological Implications of Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

The Theological Implications of Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7):

The solemn blessings (Beatitudines, Benedictiones) marked the opening of the ‘Sermon on the Mount, the very first of Jesus’ Sermons in the Gospel of St. Matthew (5:3-10). Four of them occurred again in a slightly different form in the Gospel of St. Luke (6:22). The setting of the Sermon on the Mount parallels Moses’ experience on Mt. Sinai delivering God’s old law to Israel. The new law, rightly a new ‘Theology of Faith,’ introduced higher standards of holiness; Christ brought His disciples up the mountain to receive this teaching that would enable them to withstand conflicts. The Beatitudes are descriptive of Christ’s interior dispositions. 


The message of Jesus was humility, charity, and brotherly love. Jesus taught the transformation of the inner person. He presented the Beatitudes positively, virtues in life that ultimately lead to reward. Love became the motivation for the Christians. All of the Beatitudes have an eschatological meaning. They promise ‘Salvation’ – not only in this world but in the next.


The Beatitudes initiated one of the main themes of Matthew’s Gospel: the Kingdom so long awaited in the Old Testament (O.T) is not of this world but the next, the Kingdom of heaven. St. Augustine called the Beatitudes the ideal for every Christian life. Symbolically, St. Augustine said the mountain signified the high standards of the new covenant. St. Gregory of Nyssa (330-394) gave the first contemplations on the Beatitudes[1]; he said Beatitude is a possession of all things held to be good, from which nothing a good desire is absent that, may want. The meaning of Beatitude may become more apparent if it is compared with its opposite. Now the opposite of Beatitude is misery. Misery means being afflicted unwillingly with painful sufferings[2], and misery results from violent conflicts. The Beatitudes follow distinctive pattern logic because each blessing builds upon the one before. The Beatitude of spiritual poverty is the foundation for all of them.


The first seven Beatitudes corresponded to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Mat. 5:3-9; Is. 11:2). The eight Beatitude (Mat. 5:10) summarized the first seven. All eight Beatitudes are Jesus’s theological approaches to ending conflicts in life.


 First Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The word poor seems to represent an Aramaic’ ányâ (Hebrew’ anî), bend down, afflicted, miserable, poor. At the same time, meek is instead a synonym from the same root, ‘ánwan (Hebrew’ ánaw), bending oneself down, humble, meek, gentle. Some scholars would attach to the former word also the sense of humility; others think of “beggars before God,” humbly acknowledging their need for Divine help. But the opposition to “rich” (Luke 6:24) points especially to the common and obvious meaning, which, however, ought not to be confined to economic need and distress but may comprehend the whole of the painful condition of the poor: their low estate, their social dependence, their defenseless exposure to injustice from the rich and the mighty. Besides the Lord’s blessing, the promise of the heavenly Kingdom is not bestowed on the actual external condition of such poverty. The blessed ones are the poor “in spirit,” who by their free will are ready to bear for God’s sake this painful and humble condition, even though at present they be rich and happy; while on the other hand, the really poor man may fall short of this poverty “in spirit.” Poor in Spirit means humility to accept one’s wretchedness (poverty) and look towards the Almighty God for divine intervention.

In contrast, the opposite is the ‘pride of flesh’ as the richness of Spirit that relies on self-comfort, an attitude of not needing God. So, it is not a matter of economic or financial poverty or richness; it is pride, the opposite of humility, that brings misery. Pride brings anger and the seeking of revenge and retaliation, especially when one is offended. If every man were humble and poor in Spirit, there would be no violent conflict.


Second Beatitude: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

The second beatitude teaches humility and appreciation for gifts and blessings that come from God, which grow in love and gratitude for Jesus Christ. This growth, also called maturity, can only produce mourning and regret over sins. St. Gregory described another reason to mourn; the more one ascends in meditation on divine truth, Beauty, and Goodness, one realizes the poverty of human nature, which leaves man in sorrow. But the beatitude says they shall be comforted by the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, and hopefully one day in the Kingdom of Heaven. Mourning in this context is a blessing because mourning for the fallen nature creates a desire to improve and carry out proper action.


Third Beatitude: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

A humble person becomes meek, or becomes gentle and kind, and exhibits docility of Spirit, even in the face of adversity, hardship, serious conflict, or violent confrontations. This Beatitude teaches humility and obedience. Obedience and submission to the will of God are certainly not in vogue these days, but those are the virtues that will bring peace and end conflicts.


Fourth Beatitude: Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 A continuous desire for justice and moral perfection will lead one to fulfill that desire – a transition and conversion to holiness. That is true for all the virtues – if you hunger and thirst for temperance, you will head towards the goal you have in mind. For example, one must have the gift of fortitude so one may be courageous in seeking justice. [3]


Fifth Beatitude: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Mercy is the loving disposition towards those who suffer distress and cause one’s distress. It takes a godly person to be merciful because mercy is an attribute of God. Love, compassion, and forgiveness towards one’s neighbor ultimately bring peace to relationships. Mercy to others is reciprocated by mercy to one by God. The following are ways to be merciful to one’s neighbor and obedient in faith to Christ. The corporal works of mercy include generosity as giving out money to the poor or feeding the hungry, giving drinks to the thirsty, clothing the naked; sheltering the homeless; comforting the imprisoned, visiting the sick, and helping in burying the dead. The spiritual works of mercy include admonishing sinners, especially the violent people; instructing the uninformed; teaching correct theological doctrine, counseling the doubtful; comforting the sorrowful; being patient with those in error; forgiving offenses, and praying for all (friends and enemies).


Sixth Beatitude: Blessed are pure of heart, for they will see God.

To be pure of heart means to be free of all selfish intentions and self-seeking desires. Such an act is pure love, and an act of pure and selfless giving brings happiness to all. According to biblical terminology, “cleanness of heart” (verse 8) cannot exclusively be found in interior chastity, nor even, as many scholars propose, in a general purity of conscience, as opposed to the Levitical, or legal, purity required by the scribes and Pharisees. At least the proper place of such a blessing does not seem to be between mercy (verse 7) and peacemaking (verse 9), nor after the more far-reaching virtue of hunger and thirst after justice. In the Old and New Testaments (Genesis 20:5; Job 33:3, Psalms 23:4 (24:4) and 72:1 (73:1); 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:22), the “pure heart” is the simple and sincere good intention, the “single eye” of Matthew 6:22, and thus opposed to the un-avowed by-ends of the Pharisees (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18; 7:15; 23:5-7, 14). This “single eye” or “pure heart” is most of all required in the works of mercy (verse 7) and zeal (verse 9) on behalf of one’s neighbor. And it stands to reason that the blessing promised to this continuous looking for God’s glory should consist of the supernatural “seeing” of God.


Seventh Beatitude: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Peacemakers not only live peaceful lives but also try to bring peace and friendship to others and preserve peace between men. A peacemaker is a man who brings peace to another, but one cannot give another what one does not possess. Hence peace must start from the giver, and then he can communicate it to those around him. By imitating God’s love of man, the peacemakers become children of God, live a life free of conflict, and enhance conflict resolution by proffering solutions to end conflicts.


Eighth Beatitude: Blessed are those persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

 Jesus said many times that those who follow Him would be persecuted. “If they persecute me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20-21). Stephen, Peter, Paul, nearly all of the Apostles, and many Christians in the Roman era suffered martyrdom. With its two world wars, the twentieth century saw its share of martyrs, such as Maria Goretti, Maximilian Kolbe, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the Central American martyrs. In Nigeria, many Christians from the northeast have been killed by the Boko-Haram insurgents; their deaths could aptly be described as martyrdom. But the Lord promised that those who suffer for His sake would be rewarded with the Kingdom of heaven!

The eight conditions required constitute the fundamental law of the Kingdom, the very pith and marrow of Christian perfection. The practical bearing of Beatitudes on Christian life may be put on a level with the Decalogue in the O.T. and the Lord’s Prayer in the N.T. However, it surpasses both in its poetic beauty of the structure.

The theological essence of the Eight Beatitudes’ is the physical usefulness in tolerance, reciprocal love, justice, and peace.


  •   [1] St. Gregory was a mystic who lived in Cappadocia in Asia Minor around 380 A.D
  • [2] St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Lord’s Prayer, The Beatitudes: Ancient Christian Writers, Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1954
  • [3] St. Augustine, in his discourse on the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, noted the correspondence of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and their necessity in fulfilling the Beatitudes.

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