We’ve moved on from Christmas quite a bit now and Jesus has thus been revealed to us in Mass to be the new royal son of David and also, of course, the Son of God. He has been sent to His people with a divine mission to spearhead a new exodus that brings Israel, not out of captivity from the Egyptians or even the Romans, but to lead the new Israel, i.e. the Church, out from the captivity of sin.
In the same way that Moses led the Israelites in his exodus from Egypt, through the waters of the Red Sea, to give Israel God’s law on Mount Sinai, Jesus has passed through the waters of the Jordan through baptism and now, in this Sunday’s Gospel, will go up onto the Mount of the Beatitudes to give us a new law — the law of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The beatitudes (from the Latin Beati meaning “happy” or “blessed”) finally bring the fulfilment of the promise that God made to Abraham in the book of Genesis — “I will bless those who bless you… and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” (Genesis 12:3; see also Genesis 22:18).
Jesus is the “seed” (son) of Abraham (see Matthew 1:1) and through Jesus’ characteristic wisdom He speaks in this Sunday’s Gospel and gives His hearers (that’s us!) the Father’s blessings — those who are “poor in spirit.”
God has always chosen to bless the weak and the lowly; those who are marginalised in society and are seen to be outcasts because of their many “inabilities” and St Paul also tells us this in this Sunday’s Second Reading (which continues on from last week’s). St Paul describes who the poor in spirit are: “Those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen — those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything.” They are the ones that know that there is nothing that they can do to merit God’s mercy and grace. These are also the humble ones who are “left in Israel” in our First Reading — those taught to “seek refuge in the name of the Lord.”
The Beatitudes show us God’s purpose for our very lives and our very existence. Everything that we do ought to be focused to the acquisition of these virtues — to be poor in spirit; meek and humble; gentle and merciful; and seekers of righteousness, which only comes from living by the new law of the new Kingdom — the Kingdom of Heaven that becomes present to us in and through the Eucharist.
As we will hear at the end of our Gospel, the path that the Lord has for us is one of trials and persecution — the via Crucis, the way of the Cross. But He also promises us His comfort in our mourning and a great reward in heaven.
The Kingdom that we inherit through our participation in the Sacraments is no earthly territory, but the “promised land” of heaven. Moses led the exodus to the border of the land of Canaan (the promised land), but he was unable to cross the Jordan river with Israel unto salvation. It was later done by the man Joshua (Hebrew: Yeshua, which is Jesus’ name in Hebrew) and it was Yeshua who was finally able to bring His people to Salvation, like Joshua did in an earthly sense. Heaven is also foreshadowed by Mount Zion in the prophets of Scripture: “and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time forth and for evermore” (Micah 4:7). And, finally, as we shall sing in this Sunday’s Psalm, we shall reign with the Lord in Zion too, “from age to age.”