Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Jesus is picking up a reputation as a healer, and earning himself a hearing. The time has come to teach, and he sets out his manifesto in this ‘Sermon on the Mount’.
Jesus opens with a set of paradoxes – strange upside-down blessings. In a culture which considered wealth, happiness, respect of society, victory in battle, and long life as blessings from God, these would have sounded very strange.
Jesus is saying many things here, and one of them is that the poor, the mournful, the meek and so on are not to think God has abandoned them. Indeed, God has a special blessing for those who don’t enjoy the traditional blessings of this life.
Then Jesus issues a challenge: being blessed doesn’t mean we can just sit back, it means responding with our lives. We are to bless others by working to make our world a better place.
This is one answer to the paradox: it is precisely as Jesus’ followers are salt and light in the world that they bring God’s blessings, even if their action calls down persecution on them.
(This window is in Holy Cross parish church, Yelling)