He began to teach them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven...
In today's gospel, Jesus has ascended the mountain and taken his seat to teach his disciples. The site recalls Mount Sinai; and his manner evokes Moses.
He is the long awaited prophet of whom Moses spoke: A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kindred; that is the one to whom you shall listen.
With overwhelming sadness Deuteronomy concluded, " Since then no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face....
This moment in Saint Matthew's Gospel represents ecstatic joy for us. We have passed through the preliminaries of his birth, baptism, testing in the desert, gathering disciples, and his healing of "all who were sick with various diseases and racked with pain, those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics...."
Now at last, he opens his mouth and speaks to us. He enunciates more than a set of commandments like that of Moses; Jesus pronounces Blessings on his Beloved.
The Beatitudes are a new kind of law. It's clear from the mountaintop setting and the prophetic gesture that Jesus gives us a new way of life. It might justifiably be called a "new law." But it doesn't simply govern our external and internal behavior like the original Ten Commandments. The Decalogue insisted we should love and worship the Lord God; we should honor our elderly parents; we should never commit certain unconscionable sins (murder, adultery, theft, false witness); and we should govern our thoughts as well, avoiding covetousness.
The Beatitudes go far beyond the Ten Commandments. They descend upon us like a heavenly home; they describe a mansion in which the Blessed abide. No one will be alone in this house for it is filled with the Presence -- the Shekinah -- of the Triune God.
This "house" is the Church, of course, the assembly, the People of God. We encounter the Church at its best in the liturgy, when we gather to worship God. The Mass, the Sacraments, Eucharistic Adoration, and the Liturgy of the Hours: these gatherings of the people around the altar describe a life that begins on earth and opens into heaven.
Each of the Beatitudes invites us to ponder the mystery of life in the Trinity. They intentionally and obviously contradict expectations of this world. No one has considered the poor, those who mourn, the meek or those who pine for righteousness to be fortunate. In most human experience they are regarded as cursed. Best avoided, they are despised.
But as the Beatitudes embrace and gather us in Divine Worship, we realize every human being has known the isolation of these apparent curses. We have kept these secrets in shame, for fear of the contempt of friends, neighbors and strangers. We have not permitted others to know what goes on under our roofs and behind our front doors.
Now, at last, in God's house, we can live without shame and receive the Blessings, the Beatitudes, which flow from his mouth. We can live without fear and in Communion with one another.