Discourse #1: The Sermon on the Mount Continued
God’s Plan for a Transformed Heart and Life
Merciful and Loving Father,
Grief and sorrow bring us back to You, Lord, like little children who seek the loving arms of a beloved parent. In Your patience and in Your tender love, You guide us to Your Son so that our wounds may be bound and our sorrows healed when we unite our suffering with His. Help us to experience the purification of the soul that comes from the sorrow of true contrition and repentance, and the comfort that comes from a soul cleansed with Your grace. Give us the courage to trust You in all things, Lord, meekly submitting ourselves to Your will. We ask, Lord, that in humility of spirit and in the obedience of faith that You use us to further the Kingdom of Heaven on earth through the witness of lives transformed by Your light. We humbly pray in the name of the God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Review of the first beatitude and promise:
|BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT||We are “poor” in spirit because we acknowledge that we are not self-sufficient and that we need God in our lives. We come to Him in childlike faith, knowing that we cannot make it on our own without Him.|
| PROMISE #1
FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
|When we acknowledge the sovereignty of God over our lives we discover that He does not save us because of what we have done, but He saves us because of what Christ has done for us. If we persevere in faith, we are promised the gift of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.|
BEATITUDE #2: “BLESSED ARE THEY WHO MOURN”
True, I was born guilty, a sinner even as my mother conceived me.
Psalm 51:7 (in some translations 51:5)
I acknowledge my guilt and grieve over my sin.
So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds. Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.
In St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament, he placed Blessed are the meek second in the list of the Beatitudes. Jerome’s placement became the western textual tradition and all other western translations followed his placement. However, almost all other ancient manuscripts list Blessed are those who mourn as the second beatitude, and the New American Bible translation adopts this order. The Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1716 also lists “those who mourn” as the second beatitude. In any case, the first three beatitudes result in placing us in the hands of God.
Matthew 5:4: Blessed are they who mourn …
When we become “poor in spirit,” we admit we need God. We realize that we are insufficient without Him. “Poverty of spirit” expressed in childlike faith defines our relationship and brings us into the presence of the One True and Holy God. As we yield to spiritual childhood by admitting poverty of spirit and as we kneel in His presence, the more clearly we see God. The more clearly we see God, the more we become aware of our imperfections. We become humbled in His holy presence and we feel the burden of our sins. The result is that in becoming aware of our sins we mourn our transgressions. To repent and feel genuine sorrow for our sins is a natural outflow of surrender to God through “poverty of spirit.” There can be no forgiveness of sin without true repentance. In 1 John 1:9 the Apostle wrote: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We yearn to be purified in His presence and our cry becomes the cry of the Prophet Isaiah inIsaiah 6:5
Please read Isaiah 6:1-7 ~ The call of the prophet Isaiah
1 In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. 2 Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft. 3 “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!” they cried one to the other. “All the earth is filled with his glory!” 4 At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke. 5 Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, you sin is purged.”
Question: What caused Isaiah’s distress when he approached Yahweh’s presence in the heavenly throne room? What did he cry out?
Answer: Isaiah felt the burden of his sins and he cried out: Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!
Question: Why did he feel the burden of his sins?
Answer: A sinful human being cannot come into the presence of a pure and holy God without feeling the painful burden of his or her sins upon the soul. The more clearly Isaiah saw God the more aware he became of his own sins.
Question: What remedy is offered to relieve Isaiah of this burden and his distress?
Answer: He is purified with a red-hot coal from God’s heavenly altar.
All who die in God’s grace and who are assured of their eternal salvation but who still retain on their souls the stain of the guilt of venial sin from which they had failed to be purified in this life by an act of contrition deriving from an act of charity and performed with the help of God’s grace, or still retain the accountability for forgiven mortal sin, must undergo purification so as to attain the holiness necessary to enter into the presence of the One True and Holy God (1 Cor 3:13-15). The Catholic Church has given the name “Purgatory” to the final purification of the elect; the etymology is from the Latin purgation and means “cleansing, purifying” (Hardon, Catholic Dictionary, “purgatory,” page 357; also see CCC 1030-32 and 1472; doctrine defined at Councils of Florence and Trent).
Question: How can Isaiah’s purification be compared to the purification a soul receives in Purgatory? See 1 Cor 3:10-15; CCC# 1030-32; 1 Pt 1:7; 3:18-20; 4:6, 12; Eph 4:7-9; Mt 27:52-53; Lk 16:19-31; 2 Mac 12:38-46.
Answer: In Purgatory the elect are purged by the fiery love of God so that, when their penance is complete, they will be able to enter into God’s Divine Presence in the heavenly Sanctuary just as Isaiah was purified before entering God’s presence.
Since Isaiah’ mission was to be in essence the “mouth” or “voice” of God to the covenant people, his lips and mouth were purified with fire to prepare him not only for his audience with God but for his mission to Israel and Judah.
Question: What was John the Baptist’s mission in preparation for the coming of the Son of God?
Answer: He called the covenant people to the Baptism of repentance. In order to be able to come into the presence of God, one must be purified of one’s sins. John’s baptism prepared the people to come into the presence of God the Son.
Question: In sacred Scripture what was the first call to confession and repentance? What four questions did God ask in man’s first call to repentance and why? Please see Gen 3:6-13.
- “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9)
- “Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen 3:11)
- “Have you been eating from the forbidden tree?” (Gen 3:11)
- “Why did you do that? (Gen 3:13)
The first question, “Where are you?” was not a question of physical location. God, being omniscient, knew exactly where Adam and Eve were hiding in the garden. God’s question was instead concerned with their spiritual condition: “Where are you in your relationship with Me?” The second question established that they were no longer “clothed in grace” but had become “dis-graced” and were deprived of divine son-ship in the family of God. The third called for an acknowledgement of their sin, and the fourth question was an invitation to turn away from sin in order to turn back to holiness. In asking the four questions God the Father was calling His children to confession: Yahweh was asking Adam and Eve to examine their spiritual state, to acknowledge their sin, to confess their sin, and in expressing contrition and repentance to turn away from sin in turning back to Him:
- The first question called Adam and Eve to an examination of conscience.
- The second question was a call for an admission of sin.
- The third question was a call to bear the accountability for the sin committed.
- The fourth question was an invitation to repent their sin in an act of contrition and in turning away from sin to turn back to God.
These are the questions God is asking every sinner who comes into His presence in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we come to God as fallen children, mourning our sins and seeking forgiveness for our sins from a just and loving Father (CCC 980, 1422-24 and 1468-70).
In his homily on the Beatitudes, St. John Chrysostom (344/354-407 AD), the Bishop of Constantinople who was famous for his orthodoxy and his eloquence, wrote about the blessing for those who mourn: And here too again He designated not simply all that mourn, but all that do so for sins: since surely that other kind of mourning is forbidden, and that earnestly, which related to anything of this life. This Paul also clearly declared, when he said, The sorrow of the world worketh death, but godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation….’ (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, Homily XV.4).
Question: What was John Chrysostom’s point and why did he quote from St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:10?
Answer: St. John’s point is that as Christians we do not mourn when Christians die in a state of grace because their death is a joyous rebirth into the Kingdom of heaven. His argument is that this beatitude must, therefore, refer to sorrow for sins, our own and for those who die in a state of sin. He quotes St. Paul who writes that for the righteous to mourn sin is “godly sorrow” which counts toward salvation.
Sorrow for sins is the natural reaction to a supernatural call for cleansing of the soul in preparation for restored fellowship with God.
Consider the story of Simon Peter’s encounter with Christ in the miraculous harvest of fish one day on the Sea of Galilee (also called Lake of Gennesaret) in Luke chapter 5. After receiving John the Baptist’s baptism, Jesus returned to the Galilee to begin His mission. It was early in Jesus ministry and before Jesus had called disciples to follow Him. Simon Peter and his partners, after a fruitless night of fishing, brought their two boats into port and were in the process of washing their nets. Jesus hailed the fishermen and requested that they take one boat out a little way from the shore so that He could address the crowds of people who had come to see and hear Him from the better vantage point of Simon’s boat.
Simon and the other men with him had been fishing all night, as was the custom for fisherman on the Galilee. They were tired and probably hungry but they agreed to the young rabbi’s request, and taking Jesus aboard, they positioned the boat just off shore so Jesus could address the assembled crowd: After he had finished speaking he said to Simon, Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.’ Simon said in reply, Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.’ For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ When they brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him (Lk 5:4-11).
Question: What is the difference between the rich young man’s response to Jesus’ call to follow Him in Matthew 19:16-22 and Simon-Peter’s response in this passage?
Answer: Unlike the rich young man who was blinded by his self-sufficiency, Simon-Peter recognized that he was in the presence of God. The stunning realization brought him to his knees in repentance as he sincerely mourned his sins in the presence of the pure and holy Messiah. Peter’s surrender to Christ in poverty of spirit and his sincere act of repentance gave him the courage to give up his old life to follow Jesus.
Question: In the book of Acts chapter 2, at the conclusion of Peter’s first great homily at the event of the second great Pentecost (the first Pentecost was the ratification of the Old Covenant Church at Mt. Sinai), what did Peter tell the assembled crowd of Jews when they cried out to him in distress after he told them they had killed the Messiah. Why did Peter instruct them this way? See Acts 2:37-38 and quote the passage.
Answer: Hearing this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other Apostles, What are we to do, brothers?’ You must repent,’ Peter answered, and every one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ There can be no conversion of heart and forgiveness of sins without genuine repentance.
Interior repentance in mourning one’s sins is a radical reorientation of one’s whole life in which one turns away from sin and turns back to God with all one’s heart. The Catholic Church calls the deep inner sorrow in mourning one’s sins and the conversion of one’s heart by turning away from sin and toward the mercy of God animi cruciatus, “affliction of spirit” and compunction cordis, “repentance of heart” (Council of Trent; CCC 1431).
But is it only our own sins that we should mourn?
Question: In the Isaiah chapter 6 passage (see verse 5) does Isaiah only mourn his own transgressions or does he feel an additional burden coming into God’s presence? Why?
Answer: He feels not only the burden of his own sins but the sins of the members of his community: Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips….
St. John Chrysostom preached to his congregation concerning this blessing: But He bids us mourn, not only for our own, but also for other men’s misdoings. And of this temper were the souls of the saints: such was that of Moses, of Paul, of David; yea, all these many times mourned for evils not their own (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, XV.4). And St. Jerome wrote concerning this beatitude: The mourning discussed here does not concern the common natural law of the dead but rather their sins and vices. Thus Samuel grieved over Saul, and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel. Also Paul the apostle says that he wept and mourned over those who, after committing fornication and impure deeds, did not feel the need of repentance (St. Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 1.5.4).
Question: Why is the commission of sin more than a personal act?
Answer: Sin isn’t just a personal choice that stops with the effect it has on the life of the sinner. Every sin we commit adds to the burden of sin in our community and in the world.
When we are obedient to Jesus’ command to take up our cross and follow Him (Mt 10:38; 16:24; Mk 8:34; 10:21; Lk 9:23; 14:27), we unite our sufferings to Christ’s sufferings. To embrace our cross and mourn the world’s sins is to admit awareness and an intimate involvement in the suffering that sin brings to living things “man and beast alike. In our mourning, we admit that our sins add to the suffering in the world. Even when our sins are forgiven, there is still accountability for our part in adding to the collective damage of world-wide sin (CCC 1459, 1473).
Our mourning of world sin is the recognition and shared responsibility for the fallen plight of humanity “sins of omission, sins of commission, accumulated sin, personal sin. Christ died that mankind might be delivered from all sin and therefore when we truly mourn our sin and the sin of the world we unite with Him in His liberating sacrifice that promises the end to all sin. We mourn, we offer penance which yields to redemptive pain in our suffering united with Christ and offered up to God “this is pain and passion that is transformed into compassion through the Passion of our Christ. This is an emptying of self in genuine mourning and sorrow for sins, but it is not grief, nor is it the level beyond grief which is despair. There is no despair in this mourning for this is the kind of mourning that welcomes comfort and love. The mourning that receives Christ’s blessing is a mourning that has seen mankind in its fallenness and nothing less will satisfy it than mankind fully restored (The Beatitudes: Soundings in Christian Tradition,Simon Tugwell, page 69).
In our sincere mourning for the sinful condition of mankind, we have the promise of our Savior that on the day of His return all mourning and sorrow will cease.
“FOR THEY WILL BE COMFORTED”
I will turn their mourning into joy, I will console and gladden them after their sorrows.
This is my comfort in affliction, your promise that gives me life.
The International Critical Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew makes three very interesting points concerning this promise (see page 448-49):
- The passive tense used in the Greek text is a “divine passive.” It is God who will comfort those who mourn.
- The comfort God will offer is not a comfort that can be known in a worldly sense but is instead supernatural in that this comfort will be fulfilled only by the coming of the Son of God into His Kingdom.
- It is not mourning for mourning sake that will receive this divine consolation; instead it is God’s grace that will comfort those who mourn the suffering of sin.
Think of the tremendous implications of this divine promise. It is our Father’s promise that the very hands that formed the cosmos and placed the stars in the heavens, the very hands that held the hand of Mary, His mother, when He was a little child, and the same hands that were stretched across a wooden beam in agony when the Roman soldiers nailed them to the cross; these same hands will wipe away our tears! The prophet Isaiah promises in Isaiah 25:8: He will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken. This is a promise repeated inRevelation 7:17: …and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
And so in our mourning for sin we will be comforted “but there is more. The English word “comfort” is derived from the Latin word cumfortare(com-for-tar-ay). It is the root of the word fortitude’, which means: that strength or firmness of mind or soul which enables a person to encounter danger or to bear pain with coolness and courage (The New Webster Dictionary). So the promise is not just comfort in the sense of being held or sheltered. Instead, we have the promise that when we morn our sins and turn to Christ that he will give us the strength and the courage to overcome our own weaknesses and inadequacies so that we can take up our own crosses and follow Him as He had summoned His disciples of all generations: He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it (Mk 8:34-35).
It was this cleansing through repentance that gave Peter and his companions the courage to leave behind every worldly possession to followed Jesus and, after the Resurrection, the courage to take up their own crosses and to spread the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ across the known world. Not only does the Holy Spirit comfort us in our sorrow and repentance but through living the Sacraments of our faith He gives us the strength to resist sin and also the strength to stand against sin in our community and in the world. We bear our suffering with a spirit of atonement, reconciliation and love and the result is comfort and strength.
Question: What recourse has Christ given us, in our earthly exile, to mourn our sins and to be comforted?
Answer: He has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the sacraments:The seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body (CCC#774). The Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation requires the contrition of the penitent, a “sorrow of the soul” for the sins committed, and a resolution not to sin again (see CCC# 1450-54). Through confession of our sins to Christ, in His presence and the presence of His visible representative “His priest, we place ourselves before God’s merciful judgment. In making an act of contrition, we look honestly at our sins, and we take responsibility for those sins. When we are forgiven our sins through the Sacrament of Penance we are freed from the stain and the burden with which sin inflicts our souls. We are reconciled to God and reconciled to others. Through God’s grace we are comforted and are able to come back into full communion with the Most Holy Trinity and with the brothers and sisters in our Church family.
#1470 of the Catechism assures us: In this sacrament, the sinner, placing himself before the merciful judgment of God, anticipates in a certain way the judgment to which he will be subjected at the end of his earthly life. For it is now, in this life, that we are offered the choice between life and death, and it is only by the road of conversion that we can enter the Kingdom, from which one is excluded by grave sin. In converting to Christ through penance and faith, the sinner passes from death to life and does not come into judgment.’ Our Savior gives us the same assurance in John 5:24: Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life. Having made a sincere act of contrition for our sins Christ, through His priestly representatives, forgives our sins and comforts us with the knowledge that we emerge from His presence as pure as a newly Baptized baby. This is the miracle of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
In acknowledging our “poverty of spirit,” we enter into spiritual childhood in our relationship with God the Father. Drawing closer to Him we see Him more clearly and become aware of our sins. We sincerely mourn our sins and the sins of the world and as a result of our sincere repentance He comforts us, His children, and strengthens us in the struggle against sin and evil in the world. As one Church Father wrote: Those who mourn receive comfort when the pain of mourning ceases. Those who mourn over their own sins and have obtained forgiveness shall be comforted in this world. Those who mourn over the sins of others will be comforted in the future age to come (Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 9, author unknown).
In His final homily to His disciples in the Upper Room Jesus said: If you love me you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you and will be in you. [..]. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name “he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid (John 14:16-17, 25-27).
Question: Who does Jesus promise to send to provide this comfort, to give us instruction, to strengthen our faith and to give us the assurance of God’s love?
Answer: Jesus promised this comfort through God the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and our Comforter.
Not only does the Holy Spirit comfort us in our sorrow and repentance but through living the Sacraments of our faith He gives us the strength to resist sin and the strength to stand against sin in our community and in the world. We bear our suffering with a spirit of atonement, reconciliation and love, and the result is comfort and strength.
| Blessed are those who mourn: to mourn one’s own sins and the sins of the world sin = purification à
Comfort, strength, and reconciliation
Questions for group discussion:
Question: Does Jesus’ promise of comfort mean that all our troubles will disappear?
Answer: The promise in this beatitude is not that God comforts us in our sorrow so that our troubles will go away. If that was the case, people would only use God as a “magic rabbit’s foot,” turning to Him only out of their desire to be free of the problem and not out of love for Him and sorrow for their sins. In this promise, being comforted also means receiving strength, encouragement, and hope to deal with what is causing our sorrow. The more we suffer we can be assured that the more God gives us comfort and strength if we seek Him. And, it is Jesus’ promise that as we suffer He suffers with us.
Question: Are we to only be concerned with our own comfort or are we obliged to offer comfort to others who mourn and suffer? Read what the Apostle Paul, who had been known as Saul of Tarsus before his conversion, wrote about this subject in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 and relate this passage to the blessing for those who mourn and the comfort they are promised: Blessed be God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ’s suffering overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.”
Answer: Yes, we are obliged to offer His comfort to others; His mercy and love given freely to us must flow from us to others in need of comfort, mercy and love. We are the conduit through which His mercy and love flow out to the world.
Question: Can you think of any servants of Christ who were examples of this Christian call to give Christ’s comfort offered in mercy and love to others?
Answer: There are many wonderful examples; Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II are two excellent examples of the outpouring of the love of Christ. Christ’s love radiated from their lives and into the lives of every person with whom they came in contact.
Question: St. Paul had first hand knowledge of suffering for Christ. He also received a lesson in how Jesus viewed suffering in his first encounter with Christ. How is Christ’s suffering with His Church expressed in Jesus’ question to Paul when he was known as Saul of Tarsus and was traveling on the road to Damascus, Syria? Why is Jesus’ question to Paul/Saul significant? How is this encounter connected with the 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 passage? See Acts 9:1-6 for Paul/Saul’s first encounter with Jesus Christ.
Answer: In this passage Saul of Tarsus, who was an officer in the Jewish court called the Sanhedrin, had been persecuting Christians in Judea and was being sent to Damascus, Syria to arrest more Christian families. In his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road, Jesus asked Saul, Why do you persecute me? When Saul (Paul) inquires who is it who is speaking to him Jesus replies, I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting (Acts 9:4-5). It is a significant that Jesus is not asking “Why do you persecute my Church?” Instead, Jesus’ question to Saul implies that when Christians suffer persecution that Christ suffers with them. In the passage from 2 Corinthians, Paul is also telling us that we are obliged to take what we have learned from our experience of suffering and as an agent of God to offer comfort to others who have suffered. In this way we take on the suffering of Christ as we experience afflictions in obedience to our mission to spread the Gospel of salvation.
BEATITUDE #3: “BLESSED ARE THE MEEK”
Jesus: Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Now, Moses himself was by far the meekest on the face of the earth.
The first step on the stairway to eternal life in “poverty of spirit” acknowledges God’s sovereignty over your life. Your complete dependence on Him places you in child-like faith before the throne of God. Face to face with a pure and holy God, you mourn your sins and the sins of the world. The first step identifies your relationship to God and the second refines you with the purifying fire of repentance. It is the third step, “blessed are the meek,” which renews you and places you as a useful tool in the hands of the Master of the universe.
Matthew 5:5: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
In c. 400 AD, Christian scholar Chromatius wrote: The meek are those who are gentle, humble and unassuming, simple in faith and patient in the face of every affront. Imbued with the precepts of the Gospel, they imitate the meekness of the Lord, who says, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Moses found the greatest favor with God because he was meek. It was written about him: “And Moses was the meekest of all people on earth.” Furthermore, we read in David’s psalm: “Be mindful, O Lord, of David and his great meekness” (Tractate on Matthew 17.4.1-2).
In Matthew 5:5, the Greek word praus,[pronounced prah-ooce’], means “mild, humble, or meek” (see Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, pages 534-35). The word praus is only found four times in the New Testament: three times in the Gospel of St. Matthew in 5:5 , 11:29, 21:5 and once in 1 Peter 3:4 (Thayer’s, page 534). In both Matthew 11:29 and 21:5, Jesus is called “meek” like the prophet Moses before Him (see Num 12:3).
|Matthew 5:5||Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.|
|Matthew 11:29||Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.|
|Matthew 21:5||Say to daughter Zion, Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.|
|1 Peter 3:4||…but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle [meek] and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God.|
The pre-Christian Greek culture meaning of this word expressed an outward conduct that related only to men and not necessarily in a positive light (see Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament volume I, page 37). However, this is another Greek word to which Christians gave a uniquely Christian character with “meekness” becoming the symbol of a higher Christian virtue as illustrated in the verses above. To the pagan Greeks this word often implied condescension, but Christians gave the word a quality expressing an inward virtue that implies submission of the human will to the will of God.
Christian “meekness,” therefore, is based on humility which is expressed in the New Testament as the supernatural quality that is the outgrowth of a renewed nature. This renewal can only come when we surrender our lives to God and seek His divine will. However, this submission is not an indication of weakness. On the contrary, for the Christian submission to God’s control results in strength “strength that is not our own but the strength that comes from God’s divine will working through our lives. The Bible is full of stories of God intervening in the lives of men and women who call on Him for His help and of stories of men and women willing to help others, there are very few examples of God intervening in the lives of those who preferred their own plan and the control of their own destiny. The only exception is in cases where His intervention is divine judgment that is intended to bring about repentance and redemption, as in St. Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus and his three days of blindness (Acts 9:1-9).
It is a sad comment on human nature that sometimes it is the experience of suffering that finally yields humility and meekness in submitting one’s life to God. Abraham’s wife Sarah is such an example. In the Old Testament book of Genesis, God preserved the “promised seed” of Genesis 3:15by selecting Abraham and his wife Sarah to be the parents of the family from which King David, Mary of Nazareth, and Jesus the Messiah were born. Yahweh made a three-fold covenant with Abraham, promising him land, descendants, and a world wide blessing (Gen 12:1-3). When Abraham first received this promised blessing, the question of Sarah’s fertility was not a concerned for the couple. She was young, she was beautiful, and she was a woman desired by kings (Gen 12:15; 20:2). However, as the years passed she began to be concerned that God’s plan needed a little help, and so in her desire for a child and in her self-sufficiency and pride she offered her husband her Egyptian slave girl (Gen 16:1-3). If her husband impregnated her slave girl, the child born of the union would be her child. This was a common custom practiced in Mesopotamia, the Levant, and in Egypt at this time. Unfortunately, this was not God’s plan. Sarah’s plan, though successful in the birth of a child, did not meet with divine approval.
Question: What were the disastrous results of Sarah’s plan? See Gen 16:1-6; 21:9-10.
Answer: In Sarah’s unwillingness to submit herself to God’s plan, her infertility continued and the child born of this union became a source of tension and unrest within the family and eventually became a threat to her own son.
Question: What does Sarah’s painful experience demonstrate? What other examples can you think of in the book of Genesis where a woman attempted to form her own destiny apart from God’s plan for her life?
Answer: Sarah’s experience demonstrates that when one attempts to circumvent God’s will for one’s life by taking one’s destiny into one’s own hands and subverting God’s authority that the results can be disastrous and have long lasting consequences. Sarah’s sin is similar to Eve’s sin in her plan to circumvent God’s blessing by taking possession of her own blessing for herself and her husband. Another example would be Rebekah’s plan to make Jacob the heir instead of his brother. It was a deception that destroyed the unity of her family.
Question: Who came to visit Abraham and Sarah at the oak of Mamre? See Gen 18:1-2
Answer: It was the Lord, accompanied by two others; all had the appearance of men.
Question: What was the purpose of Yahweh’s visit to Abraham and his wife?
Answer: The principle purpose for the visitation to Abraham at Mamre was to announce that at the same time next year the child that was promised in Genesis 17:15-16 will be born to Sarah.
Question: How old would Sarah be in the next year when the promised child was to born? See Gen 17:17.
Answer: She would be ninety years old when the child was born.
Genesis 18:1 notes that the Lord came to visit Abraham and Sarah and He was accompanied by two “messengers” (Gen 19:1). The word Hebrew word for “messenger” is a word that is translated “angels” in most English Bibles. What makes the visit to Abraham and Sarah in the chapter 18 passage so unique is the use of the singular and plural in addressing the three visitors. In Genesis 18:3 Abraham addresses the 3 “men” in the singular and yet they reply in the plural in verse 5:
- Abraham: He looked up, and there he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and bowed to the ground. My Lord’ [singular], he said… (Gen 18:3).
- The three men: They [plural] replied, Do as you say …’(Gen 18:5c).
These three visitors, who had the appearance of men, and whom Abraham addressed in the singular, were seen by many of the Fathers of the Church as a foreshadowing of the mystery of the Trinity. The representation of the Trinity as three angels sitting around a table with the Oak of Mamre in the background as a foreshadowing of the cross, is seen frequently in Eastern Rite iconography.
There is a humorous exchange between God and Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18:12-15 that has a bearing upon Sarah’s change of heart from a woman determined to control her own destiny and a woman who realizes she must submit in meekness and humility to God’s plan for her life. Upon hearing the announcement of the birth of a son in a year’s time, Sarah laughs to herself, repeating her husband’s laughter in Genesis 17:16. When God asks Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh? she tries to deny laughing because she is afraid. But God knows everything from our most intimate thoughts to the hidden motives behind our actions. In this passage, God was not only reading Sarah’s thoughts, He was interpreting her statements by restating her thoughts in His exchange with Abraham.
First, He restated Sarah’s thoughts in verse 12: Now that I am past the age of childbearing and my husband is an old man, is pleasure to come my way again? In verse 13 God restated her thought as: Am I really going to have a child now that I am old? Notice that the Lord interprets Sarah’s thoughts about her husband’s age and reshaped it into a statement abouther age, which was the physical hindrance to the birth of a child (in fact, it was Sarah’s infertility that was the problem). Finally, God went beyond her actual thoughts to the intent of those thoughts in His rhetorical question: Is anything impossible for Yahweh? God overcame the physical impossibility of the fulfillment of the promise through Sarah.
Question: But why did Sarah laugh? Did God rebuke her for laughing? What lesson did Sarah learn that is the third beatitude?
Answer: God did not rebuke her. Could her laughter indicate that she had suddenly realized that the “joke” was on her? In her old age she had given up trying to conceive a child. She had finally yielded herself to God and the result amazed her. In her old age she would bear the promised heir! What was impossible for a woman was possible for God when that woman yielded in meekness to the will of God.
Question: What was God’s reply to Sarah’s denial concerning laughing to herself outside the tent? What did His reply tell her?
Answer: God’s reply to Sarah’s denial was: Oh, yes you did! If Sarah had any doubts about the identity of their visitor, she was now convinced “He was more than an ordinary man because He knew her hidden thoughts.
With Abraham and Sarah humble submission to the will of God, God had a holy couple who became the parents of a holy people “a holy people who were be called to be the Old Covenant Church, Israel. It would be the mission of their holy descendants (through Sarah’s son Isaac) to become witness to the world of the One True God and through whom God was to fulfill His plan to bring forth the Messiah.
Another saint who needed to learn that meekness leads to strength was Simon Peter. St. Peter had physical courage, leadership, and faith, but he did not have humility. His denial of Christ three times after Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane was not a crisis in faith; it was instead a crisis of expectation “the expectation of Peter’s plan verses God’s plan.
The last year of His three year mission Jesus began to prepare His disciples and Apostles for His Passion and death. The first prediction of His death was given shortly after Peter was chosen as His Vicar of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth in Matthew 16:21-23 (also see Mk 8:31-33). The last prediction of His Passion was given before leaving the Upper Room the night of the Last Supper in Matthew 26:31-35.
Question: What was Peter’s response to the revelation of God’s plan in these two passages? See Mt 16:21-23 and 26:31-35.
Answer: In the first revelation of God’s plan, Peter rejected Jesus’ warning and was rebuked for being an obstacle to God’s plan. In the last revelation, Peter professed his devotion to Jesus and his willingness to die for Him.
Question: Did St. Peter make good on his boast to defend Jesus to the death? See Matthew 26:69-75.
Answer: No, he denied Jesus three times and wept bitterly in his humiliated state.
His failure resulted in St. Peter being stripped of all those attributes that made him a leader. In denying his Master three times he was stripped of his courage, his self-confidence, and his self-worth. He was left humbled and broken. But he emerged from his covenant ordeal strengthened in his faith and humbled “in his repentance St. Peter meekly submitted his life entirely to God.
Question: How do you think St. Peter’s lesson in humility change him?
Answer: His lesson in humility made him a far better leader of the New Covenant people. The pain of his failure gave him a servant’s heart and a genuine compassion for the sinners that he might not have had otherwise.
This remarkable change was evident when he took up his leadership role in the birth of the Church at the second great Pentecost, which is related in Acts chapter 2. So transformed was Peter into the meek and humble servant of Christ that he did not fail his final test in his willingness to die for his Savior a little less than two decades later, as related in the History of the Church by the 4th century bishop, Eusebius of Caesarea, when Peter’s meekness was transformed into real strength and courage in submitting himself to the will of God in martyrdom (Eusebius, Church History, XXV 1-8; XXX.2).
The very moving story of Peter’s martyrdom is also told in the 2nd century apocryphal Acts of Peter. In fleeing Rome along the Via Apia, during Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians, St. Peter and his wife came face to face with Jesus Christ. Shocked to see his Savior on the way to Rome, Peter asked Jesus: Domine, quo vadis? [Lord, where are you going?]. According to the ancient account, Jesus stopped, looked intently at Peter and responded: I am going to Rome to be crucified. It was when Jesus made this statement that Peter understood it was time for the prophecy to be fulfilled that Jesus had made to him after the Resurrection, nearly forty years earlier. On the shores of the Sea of Galilee Jesus told Peter: Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him [Peter], Follow me.’ (Jn 21:18-19).
According to tradition, after his encounter with the risen Christ on the Via Apia in c. 67 AD, St. Peter immediately took his wife by the hand and returned to Rome. His wife was martyred first (Eusebius, Church History XXX.2). St. Clement, a disciple of St. Peter and 4th Bishop of Rome after Peter, recorded an eyewitness account of their martyrdom: They say, accordingly, that when the blessed Peter saw his own wife led out to die, he rejoiced because of her summons and her return home, and called to her very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, and saying, Oh thou, remember the Lord.’ Such was the marriage of the blessed, and their perfect disposition toward those dearest to them (St. Clement, Stromata, VII.II).
When he was taken by the Romans soldiers to face his crucifixion, St. Peter, Vicar of the King of Kings, requested that he be crucified upside down since he was not worthy to be crucified as his Master had died. The big fisherman had learned meekness and total submission to the will of his Lord and God. The result of His submission was the courage to embrace death in the name of His Savior.(1)
We could have no better example of Christian meekness than the example set for us by the very first Christian “the very first human person to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God.
Question: Who was that person, clothed in grace and humility, who submitted in perfect obedience to the will of God? See Lk 1:26-38.
Answer: Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of God the Son.
From the first moment of the angel Gabriel’s announcement, that of all women born she had been chosen to bear the “promised seed” ofGenesis 3:15 who would redeem mankind by crushing the “head of the serpent” (Lk 1:26-38), to Simeon’s prophecy of her suffering (Lk 2:33-35), to witnessing her Son’s Passion on His walk to Golgotha and His death on the Cross (Jn 19:26), Mary submitted herself completely to God’s plan for her life and His plan for the salvation of mankind.
The Fathers of the Church saw her as the model Christian. St. Irenaeus praised her above all women when he wrote: Being obedient she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. […]. The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.22.4).
Comparing Mary’s humility and obedience with Eve’s rebellion and disobedience, St. Jerome wrote: Death through Eve, life through Mary (St. Jerome as quoted in the Catechism #494). In the Old Covenant, God tabernacled with His people by His presence above the holy Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25:10-11, 18-20, 22). In Mary’s “yes” in meekly submitting herself to God’s plan, she became the Ark of the New Covenant. Her womb became the first Eucharistic tabernacle, and her travels to visit Elizabeth her cousin and her journey to Bethlehem, became the first Eucharistic procession.
Pope Benedict XVI expressed this dimension of Mary’s meekness in her submission to God in his homily on June 1, 2005: In a certain way, we can say that her journey was “and we are pleased to highlight this in the Year of the Eucharist “the first Eucharistic procession of history. Living tabernacle of God-made-flesh, Mary is the Ark of the Covenant in whom the Lord has visited and redeemed His people. Jesus’ presence fills her with the Holy Spirit … Is not this too the joy of the Church, that incessantly welcomes Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and carries Him to the world with the testimony of assiduous charity permeated by faith and hope? Yes, to welcome Christ and to take Him to others is the true joy of Christians! Dear brothers and sisters let us carry on and imitate Mary, a deeply Eucharistic soul, and all our lives will become a Magnificat (Pope Benedict XVI, June 1, 2005).
God always seems to weave the unexpected into His plan. In His plan it isn’t the proud or the strong that conquer and claim the reward of kneeling before the King of Kings “it’s the meek and the humble who are the victors, and their victory comes from their meekness in their surrender to the will of the Most High God.
Question: Who was it (other than St. Joseph) that God first chose to give the privilege of bowing down in adoration to His Son and announcing His birth? Was that first delegation composed of kings or priests? See Lk 2:7-20.
Answer: No; the angels sent humble shepherds to worship the Christ-child and to announce His birth to other men.
Shepherds were considered the dregs of Jewish society. They lived in a state of such ritual impurity that their testimony wasn’t even accepted in a Jewish Law court (Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, page 311). It is the meek and lowly that God exalts because they know they need God. In the case of the Shepherds of Bethlehem, the meek were kneeling before the one only the meek are privileged to see “the meek kneel in humility before the Christ.
And in yielding in meekness to the plan of God working in our lives we are promised …
“FOR THEY WILL INHERIT THE LAND”
God’s servants shall dwell in the land and possess it; it shall be the heritage of their descendants; those who love God’s name shall dwell there.
Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
The first beatitude places us before the throne of God. The second Beatitude purifies us and the third places us in the hands of the Master as we submit in meekness and humility to His will and His plan for our lives. It is the promise of the third beatitude that the meek will “inherit the land.” Some English Bible translations read “inherit the earth;” however, in relating this passage to the Old Testament, “the land” is probably a more accurate translation than “the earth,” and the New American Bible translation reflects this interpretation. The same Hebrew word, ‘erets,is translated as both “land” and “earth” in Old Testament English translations.
Some scholars look for a connection between the promise of the meek inheriting the land and Psalm 37:11, which in most English translations appears to be a repeat of this promise, But the poor [anawim] will possess the land, will delight in great prosperity (Psalms 37:11). However, the Hebrew word anawim, which is usually translated as “poor” or “meek” in the Psalms 37:11 passage, does not have the same force and character as the Greek word praus in Matthew 5:5. In his book The Beatitudes, Soundings in Christian Tradition, Dr. Tudwell points out (page 31) that the Hebrew word anawim is not primarily used in a moral context as the Greek word praus is used in a moral context in its Christian interpretation. In Jewish society the anawim were the economically impoverished who lacked political power and social influence and were often dependant upon the mercy of others. They included among their numbers the crippled, the widows and the orphans for whom those blessed with wealth and positions of civil and religious authority were completely responsible.
There are two ways to interpret the promise associated with God blessing for the meek. Some scholars suggest that the promise of “the land,” like the promise of the “Promised Land” in the Old Testament, is a symbol of the future promise of the Promised Land of heaven and that in these spiritual blessings and promises this is the promise for the meek of the earth. In the Old Testament references to “the land” usually refer to the Promised land of Israel (Num 20:12), but can also to “the Promised Land” as biblical “type” for heaven as the inspired writer of Hebrews relates in Hebrews 11:9-10 speaking of Abraham’s obedient journey from Ur of the Chaldeans (Gen 11:28; 15:7) to Canaan (Gen 12:4-5): By faith he sojourned in the Promised Land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God (also see Rev 21:10-11). However, the promise of heaven was already given in the first promised blessing for the “poor in spirit;” why would the same promise be repeated again for the blessed “meek”?
As mentioned, there is another theological and scriptural way to view the promise of “inheriting the land” made to the “blessed meek” who yield their lives as tools in the hands of the Master. Bible scholars both ancient and modern have seen in this blessing and its promise an allusion to Christ’s victory in breaking of the power of Satan’s dominion over the earth.
Question: What were the first beatitudes (blessings) God gave man? What happened to those first blessings? See Gen 1:28-30; 3:1-19.
Answer: The first beatitudes to mankind (Adam and Eve) were the blessings of fertility and dominion over the earth. In our original parents’ Fall from grace, Satan began to usurp and pervert these divine blessings, which were then expressed as curse/judgments as a result of their fall from grace.
The blessing of fertility through sexual union between a man and a woman was given as a gift by God to be applied only in the context of covenantal marriage (Gen 2:24). In marriage a man and a woman are given the extraordinary possibility to become co-creators with God in the birth of the next generation. Abuse of this blessing has led to sin and suffering. Satan also usurped man’s dominion over the earth. In Jesus’ defeat of sin and death on the Cross, Satan’s control over the earth and his power to dominate the earth has been thwarted. No longer does Satan have the power to dominate us because we have been reborn through our baptism into the family of God. We belong to the God who created and dominates the earth, and as His children and his co-heirs with Christ, we inherit the land/earth; … for God willed creation as a gift addressed to man, an inheritance destined for and entrusted to him (CCC # 299).
This interpretation of the “land” is supported by passages in the Old Testament where the blessing of “the land” usually refer the land of Israel (i.e., Gen 12:1; Ex 3:8; 6:8; 20:12; Lev 25:18-19; Num 14:8; 20:12; Dt 30:20; etc.). In this interpretation, the children of God and the co-heirs of Jesus Christ receive the re-newed promised blessing of dominion over the earth through the authority of God’s vehicle of salvation on earth “the “new Israel” of the universal Church.
It is to the Vicar of Christ and his ministers that God gave the authority over the earth to bind and loose the sins of men and women and for the Church to be a motherly tutor and guide to her children on their life’s journey to the heavenly kingdom. The words “bind and loose” mean that the Church has the power to exclude unrepentant sinners from communion within the community and thereby from communion with God. The Church also has the power to receive back into communion those who repent and show their repentance by renouncing their sins and doing penance; “reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God” (see CCC 1444-45).
So, which theory is the most likely meaning of this promise? In biblical interpretation, it is always helpful to start with the literal interpretation as understood by the original recipients of the biblical teaching.
Question: How did the disciples and Apostles understand this promise of “the land” to the “blessed meek”? How was this prophecy fulfilled? See 2 Sam 7:12-17; 23:5; 1 Chr 17:16-27; 2 Chr 13:5;Ps 89:29; Dan 2:44-45; 7:13-14, 27; Acts 1:6 and CCC 877.
Answer: Most 1st century Jews and Israelites were probably looking for the restoration of “the land” of Israel of the restored Davidic kingdom that was everlasting, as promised by the Old Testament prophets. These prophecies were fulfilled in the Church founded by the Apostles of Jesus Christ.
As a biblical “type” of God’s kingdom, the promise of this third beatitude can be seen as a promise of the inheritance of the earth through the “new Israel” which the Messiah was prophesied to establish “the promised 5theverlasting kingdom of Daniel chapters 2 and 7 (see Dan 2:44-45; 7:13-14, 27). This is what most 1st century Jews and Israelites had been praying for. The new Israel of the Davidic King Jesus Christ is the Catholic Church founded by the 12 spiritual fathers, the Apostles, just as the old Israel was established by the 12 sons of Israel: In fact, from the beginning of his ministry, the Lord Jesus instituted the Twelve as “the seeds of the new Israel and the beginning of the sacred hierarchy”(CCC 877).
Question: How is it that the promise and the prophecy of Daniel chapters 2 and 7 have been fulfilled in the Church as the “new Israel”?
Answer: The promise of this beatitude and the Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in the Universal Church as the “new Israel” “the earthly kingdom of the New Covenant people until they leave this earthly exile for their home in the Kingdom of heaven. The Church on earth is part of the kingdom that is everlasting and which has dominion over the other nations of the earth.
We, as the New Covenant children of God, are the inheritors of this “land,” the “new Israel” of the Universal/ Catholic Church [catholicmeans universal]. It is a world-wide kingdom that carries the world-wide blessing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with power and dominion over the earth “to bind and loose” (Mt 16:19; 18:18; Jn 20:22-23) and vehicle by which the invitation of God’s gift of salvation is extended to every nation on the face of the earth(2)
The third step on the road to salvation and the third promise:
| Blessed are the meek: yielding our will to God’s will for our lives = renewal à
inherit “the Land”, the Church = the dominion over the earth to bind and loose.
Questions for group discussion:
Living the blessings of the Beatitudes also means claiming the promises. How do you claim this third blessing and its promise? What are your responsibilities as “inheritors of the land” by living as the heirs of the New Covenant Church which Christ as given dominion over the earth? See a New Covenant believer’s minimum commitment to the spirit of prayer and moral effort in the growth of love of God and neighbor outlined in CCC 2041-43. Are you fulfilling this minimum effort? How do you show love and obedience to God and to His Church beyond the minimum?
1. Also see Origen’s account of the martyrdom of St. Peter, (Origin, d. circa AD230), as quoted by Bishop Eusebius in History of the Church, Book III, chapter I], and see The Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Jerome, (d. AD420), pg. 363; Tertullian, (d. circa AD220), De Paraescript. Haeret., chapter 36 and The Acts of Peter.