Comparing the Two Beatitude Sermons,
The Significance of the Holy Mountains of God and the Prophet Greater Than Moses
You call us up to the heights of Your glory, to bask in the goodness of Your mercy and to receive the blessings of a holy Father who wants what is best for His beloved children. Give us the strength, dear Father, to follow in the paths of righteousness, even when the path seems rocky and uncertain. And when we stumble into those dark valleys of human failure, give us the humility to reach out to You, knowing that by the power of Your mercy we can be restored to the heights of spiritual grace, when we live in imitation of Your blessed Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We pray in the Name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.
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In summarizing God's plan for humanity the Vatican II document Dei Verbum records that after the Fall of our original parents: his promise of redemption aroused in them the hope of being saved (cf. Gn 3:15) and from that time on he ceaselessly kept the human race in his care, to give eternal life to those who perseveringly do good in search of salvation (cf. Rm 2:6-7). Then, at the time he had appointed, he called Abraham in order to make of him a great nation (cf. Gn 12:12). Through the patriarchs and after them through Moses and the prophets, he taught this people to acknowledge himself the one living and true God, provident Father and just judge, and to wait for the Savior promised by him, and in this manner prepared the way for the Gospel down through the centuries (The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 1.3).
Please turn to Matthew chapter 5 in your Bible.
In Matthew's Gospel the Apostle builds his account of the mission of the Messiah through 5 "books" centered on Jesus' 5 major discourses. The Sermon on the Mount is the first of the five major homilies by the Master which appear in Matthew's Gospel:
|1. The Sermon on the Mount||Matthew 5:1-7:29|
|2. The Missionary Discourse||Matthew 10:5-11:1|
|3. The Parables Discourse||Matthew 13:1-53|
|4. The Homily to the Church||Matthew 18:1-19:1|
|5. The Eschatological* Discourse||Matthew 24:1-26:1|
*eschatology = etymology from the Greek eschatos = uttermost + logos = word or discourse; usually interpreted as meaning the "last things"; dealing with death, particular and general judgments, heaven, hell and purgatory.
In Matthew's Gospel the Sermon on the Mount is revealed in three chapters, from chapters 5-7, and the discourse of the Sermon on the Mount can be divided into 5 major sections:
|1. The Beatitudes||Matthew 5:3-12|
|2. The Christian and the world||Matthew 5:12-16|
|3. The Law of the Old Covenant and the 6 examples of Christian conduct||Matthew 5:21-48|
|4. Teaching on the private and public lives of Christians and the practice of righteousness||Matthew 6:19-34|
|5. A Christian's relationships, commitments, and the importance of works||Matthew 7:1-29|
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2005 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
There are three major theories that Bible scholars have developed to account for the differences between Matthew's Sermon on the Mount and Luke's Sermon on the Plain:
Question: What differences do you notice between the
events concerning Jesus' teaching in Matthew and His teaching in Luke? Hint:
Notice location, audience, and content of the teaching.
It may be an important distinction that the teaching in Matthew's Gospel was given to Jesus' disciples "to believers who had already come to acknowledge His authority (Matthew 5:1). They were ready to receive a "spiritual" teaching on how Jesus had come to transform the Old Covenant by intensifying, internalizing, and fulfilling the Law of the Old Covenant. The multitude (Matthew 5:1; Luke 6:17-18) "the poor people and the crowds who came from near and far, could not have understood or accepted such a teaching. They were far more concerning with the temporal blessings and justice that was promised them through obedience to the Old Covenant Law.
Question: In the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20-26
Jesus gives His teaching in the Old Covenant style of Leviticus 26:3-46 and
Deuteronomy 28:1-46. What pattern do you see Jesus repeating from those
Answer: He is giving a series of blessings and curses. Jesus gives 4 blessings followed by 4 curses.
Question: What issues of social justice does Jesus address to the crowds in Luke's Gospel? What are the "blessings" He promises to those who have suffered in this life?
Question: What are the four curses that He
pronounces? What will be the ultimate consequence of the curses?
Answer: He pronounces curses on the rich who allow poverty to increase without using the blessings of their material wealth to comfort the poor and suffering; the rich who do not share their wealth will only receive a temporal blessing but will remain spiritually impoverished, they will have no share in the eternal blessings promised in the heavenly kingdom:
Question: Are these curses relevant to us today? See
Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 12:15-20, 48.
Answer: Absolutely. In one's participation in the Sacrament of Penance these concerns should be a part of one's examination of conscience.
The slope of the land from the site of the Beatitudes hill to the Sea of Galilee presents a spectacular natural amphitheater. If Jesus stood on the level plain below the Mount of Beatitudes He could speak and be easily heard by a multitude of people ranged up along the hillside. Tradition also identifies this site as the place where Jesus chose the twelve Apostles (Luke 6:12-16). Today pilgrims can visit a lovely domed Church (built in 1936) and peaceful gardens on the Mount of the Beatitudes maintained by the Franciscan sisters, who also operate a hospice on the grounds.
THE MOUNTAIN OF GOD
All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: Come, let us climb the LORDS' mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.' Isaiah 2:2c-3d
If you visit the Mt. of Beatitudes in Israel today you will be surprised to discover it is hardly more that a gentle hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
Question: Matthew 5:1 identifies the site of the
teaching by using the definite article "the". What is the significance of
identifying the site as "the mountain" as opposed to "a
mountain?" What is the significance of "God's mountain" in Sacred Scripture?
What was the first "Holy Mountain" in the Bible where man entered into
fellowship with God?
Answer: Mountain imagery in the Bible is a reference to the original "Holy Mountain" "Eden the first Holy Mountain of God: Genesis 2:10: A river flowed from Eden (also see Ezekiel 28:13-14).
That Eden was the original "Holy Mountain" explains the significance of the other mountains that will become important in the history of God's Covenant people as sites for God's redemptive acts and revelations (Genesis 22:2; Exodus 19:16-19; 2 Chronicles 3:1; Matthew 28:16-20). God's holy prophets promised the restoration of "the Mountain" to the earth (Isaiah 2:2-4; Daniel 2:32-35, 44-45 and in Micah 4:1-4), and taught that the "holy mountain" signified the fulfillment and consummation of restoration to God through the Messiah's atonement when the Kingdom of God would fill the earth (Isaiah 11:9). In this passage in Matthew 5:1, that Jesus called His disciples up "the Mountain" is theologically significant to God's Covenant people.
Question: In addition to Eden, how many such "holy
mountain" sites can you think of where events occurred that had a significant
impact on salvation history?
HOLY MOUNTAINS OF GOD IN SALVATION HISTORY
|1. The Garden of Eden||Genesis 2:10; Ezekiel 28:12-14|
|2. Noah's Ark rests on Mt. Ararat after the Great Flood||Genesis 8:4|
|3. The substitutionary atonement of the ram in place of the sacrifice of Abraham's son Isaac on Mt. Moriah||Genesis 22:2|
|4. Sinai Covenant on Mt. Sinai/Horeb||Exodus 19:12|
|5. The site of Solomon's Temple on Mt. Moriah||2 Chronicles 3:1|
|6. Elijah's defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel [carmel is a Hebrew word for "garden"]||1 Kings 18|
|7. Jesus and the giving of the New Covenant law on the Mt. of Beatitudes||Matthew 5|
|8. Jesus' official appointment of Peter as Vicar of the Church on the mountain at Caesarea Philippi||Matthew 16:13-19; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21|
|9. Jesus prevailed over temptation on a mountain||Matthew 4:8-11; Luke 4:1-13|
|10. The Mt. of Transfiguration when Jesus appeared in His glory||Matthew 17 [Peter refers to this place as "the holy mountain" in 2 Peter 1:16-18]|
|11. Jesus prophesizes the judgment of Jerusalem on the Mt. of Olives and spent the last nights of His life sleeping there; Jesus is arrested in a garden on the Mt. of Olives; and Jesus ascends to the Father from the Mt. of Olives||Mark 13:3-37; Luke 21:37; Matthew 26:47ff; Mark 14:43ff; Luke 22:47ff; John 18:3ff; Acts 1:1-19|
|12. Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified was a lower elevation of Mt. Moriah||Matthew 27:32-36; Mark 15:21-27; Luke 23:26-34; John 19:17-24|
(For more references to the "mountain of God" see
Ezekiel 28:13-14; Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:9; 25:6-9; 56:3-8; 65:25; Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45;
Micah 4:1-4; Matthew 5:14)
M. Hunt, copyright May, 2002; revised September, 2005
Approximately 3,500 years before the Sermon on the Mount and fifty days after escaping from Egypt by crossing the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea), Yahweh called the children of Israel to the foot of the "holy mountain" to establish His covenant with Israel. He came down in fire to give them His word embodied in the Law of the Covenant written on tablets of stone. When the people submitted to the oath of the covenant they were promised blessings for obedience to the Law, but they were also promised that they would be placed under a curse as a consequence of the failure to keep the covenant of the Law. By Christ's death we are redeemed from the curse of the Law: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by being cursed for our sake (Galatians 3:13).
In 30AD, fifty days after the Resurrection of the Living Word (ten days after the Ascension), the Jews were celebrating the Old Covenant Feast of Pentecost. In Hebrew, this feast was known as the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot because it commemorated the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai seven weeks and a day after crossing the Red Sea [7days x7weeks = 50 days as the ancients counted without the concept of a zero-place value "the first day is #1 in the counting series; this is why Scripture records that Jesus was in the tomb 3 days from Friday to Sunday]. But in Jesus' day this feast was known in the Greek language as he pentekoste, "the 50th day". It was one of the three "pilgrim feasts" in which every man of the Covenant must present himself before God at the Temple in Jerusalem. Jews from all over the known world had come to the holy city to celebrate this great feast. It was during the celebration of this Old Covenant feast which looked back to the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, that the spirit of the Law would be written on the hearts of New Covenant believers with the descent of God the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire. On that second great Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit came to fill and indwell the 120 members of the New Covenant Church praying with the Virgin Mary in the Upper Room in Jerusalem (see Acts 1:13-15; 2:11).
On the day three years earlier, when Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, He was preparing His Church for that second great Pentecost. The first part of Jesus' great homily in the Sermon on the Mount, known as the Beatitudes, is the declaration of the New Covenant Law. In announcing the new covenant promised by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34), Jesus came as the prophet greater than Moses (prophesized in Deuteronomy 18:18-19). He came to transform and fulfill the Old Covenant Law of Moses. He accomplished this transformation through His death, burial and resurrection and through the transformed hearts of Yahweh's faithful remnant of covenant people who will be empowered at Pentecost to be sent out to heal and transform the world in His name.
Instead of the negative commands of the Ten Commandments, the positive blessings of the Beatitudes are His promise that that the curse of the Law would be replaced by God's blessings. The day was coming when we would obey the demands of the Law, not as a condition of salvation, but as the fruit of a transformed heart and life. The blessings or Beatitudes Jesus taught in the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount are a plan for that transformed life. We accept the commitment to live this transformed life not in order to be redeemed but because we are redeemed. However, we cannot achieve this blessedness on our own; it is only through Christ that we can live the blessings and reap the promises of the Beatitudes.
Separate yourselves from the cares and concerns of this world. Travel mentally back in time 2,000 years and place yourself on that hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Picture in your mind a muscular, tanned 30 year old carpenter turned rabbi standing on the slope of the hill. Preserved in the ancient monastery of Monte Casino, Italy is a copy of an ancient letter from a Roman official to the Emperor Tiberius which was discovered to contain a description of a Jewish rabbi from Nazareth who had been condemned by the Roman authority. The Emperor Tiberius was interested in the stories about this miracle worker, especially after the news had come to him concerning the rumors that this Jewish teacher had actually been resurrected from the dead. Some scholars dispute the letter's authenticity but history does confirm that there was a Roman named Lentulus who was named Consul in the 12th year of Tiberius' reign and who was in the Roman province of Judah during the time of Jesus' trial and crucifixion. The letter is believed to be an official report from Lentulus to the Roman Emperor Tiberius; such a letter is mentioned in the writings of Flavius Josephus, the first century Jewish priest/historian (37AD " c. 100AD). This letter is the only description of Jesus of Nazareth known to exist. In the letter of the Roman Consul Lentulus to the Emperor Tiberius, Lentulus described Jesus as having: a noble and lively face, with fair and slightly wavy hair; black and strongly curving eyebrows, intense penetrating blue eyes and an expression of wondrous grace. His nose is rather long. His beard is almost blonde, although not very long. His hair is quite long, and has never seen a pair of scissors His neck is slightly inclined, so that he never appears to be bitter or arrogant. His tanned face is the color of ripe corn and well proportioned. It gives the impression of gravity and wisdom, sweetness and good, and is completely lacking in any sign of anger (Holy Land Magazine, Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, vol. XVIII, #1 Spring, 1998, page 20).
Jesus turns to you and to His other disciples as He ascends the slope gesturing to you to come up the "holy mountain" "to come to Him. He speaks in a gentle voice. You feel that something momentous is about to happen but you cannot understand that you and He are beginning a journey that will change the entire world. Unlike the revelation of God at Mt. Sinai, instead of being ordered to keep a distance from God, now you and the others are invited to draw near to God the Son. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus will be preparing the shepherds of His Church for the transformation of New Covenant believers from the sons and daughters of Adam to the adopted sons and daughters of God and for the revelation of the second great Pentecost when God the Holy Spirit will come down on the New Covenant Church in tongues of holy fire, filling and indwelling the New Israel "the Universal, Catholic Church.
Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God enfleshed, is taking you and His disciples up on to the sacred ground of the mountain. He is taking you away from the crowds that had come to hear the teachings and witness the healing miracles of this new rabbi. He is calling you to receive not words written on stone tablets, but He is instead calling you to witness the miracle of God the Living Word transforming hearts of stone into living Temples of the Holy Spirit. He has come to take you away from the world and its mundane, temporal kingdoms and cares. He takes you to the holy mountain on this earth to begin to teach you that one day you will be able to reach the holy summit on the next "the eternal bliss of the heavenly Kingdom of God.
Questions for group discussion:
In each discourse, on the Mount and on the plain, Jesus centers His teaching on the giving of "blessings."
Question: Look up the word "happiness" in the dictionary. What is the general meaning of this word? How does it differ from the way in which the word "blessing" is used in the Old and New Testaments? For some examples see Genesis 1:22, 28; 2:3; 12:2-3; Numbers 6:24-26; Psalms 5:12; 29:11; Isaiah 65:16-19; Jeremiah 17:7-8; Daniel 2:19-20; Proverbs 10:6; Ephesians 1:3; Hebrews 7:7; 1 Peter 3:8-9.
Answer: The Hebrew and Greek words for "blessing" in the Old and New Testaments do not equate to our English word "happiness" "a feeling of general well-being. A "blessing" in Sacred Scripture evokes the supernatural creative power of God and can only come from God "either directly from God or through the mediation of His priestly representative who requests on behalf of the people, God's divine blessing. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word barak expresses this supernatural creative power but in the New Testament the word used for "blessing" is the Greek word makarious (ma-car'-e-os), which means the state of bliss experienced by the Greek gods or upon the mortals who receive their special favor becoming themselves semi-divine. Like other Greek words the Christian community will transform this Greek word into one which carries a distinctive Hebrew-Christian meaning. In this case the "blessings" of the Beatitudes will give us the unique divine vitality, the bliss of God living in us!
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.