THE Gospel of Matthew says: When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. He set down and his disciples gathered around him. Then he spoke and began to teach them the Beatitudes:
Matthew places this discourse somewhere in the hill country bordering the Lake of Tiberias. The reason for mentioning a mountain is to remind us of Mount Sinai where Moses received the Law (Ex 19). In this first ‘discourse of Jesus’ (see Introduction) Matthew presents him as Master giving to Israel and to all humankind the new and definite Law. The formula: but I say to you is repeated six times in order to highlight the contrast between the Law of Moses and the New Law.
Fortunate! This first paragraph introduces the new people of God; to them the Law is given. Let us not forget that for the Bible, the Law is not only a matter of commandments; it includes also God’s interventions and declarations which have made Israel a special people, called to a world mission. The Law had been given to the ‘children of Abraham and Israel’ who were guided out of Egypt by Moses. Exclamations like these abound: How fortunate you are, Israel! Meaning: What luck to have been chosen! And How privileged you are to be God’s people among all other nations! You are indeed fortunate for it is to you that God has spoken (Dt. 33:29, Ps 144:15; Bar 4:4).
Right away the Gospel speaks of a converted people of God. No longer the people of the twelve tribes, with the their land, their language, their frontiers, their national ambitions, but rather those God will seek among all nations. Who are these chosen ones who surely must consider themselves overjoyed to be so called? They are poor, those who weep, those who have often been tempted to curse their misfortune, their sins, their personal conflicts.
Here Matthew gives us eight beatitudes, while Luke 6:20-26 has only four. It is not important, however, for they form but one theme. The main difference between Matthew and Luke arises from the fact that their beatitudes are addressed to two different groups.
Luke presents the Beatitudes in the way they were proclaimed by Jesus. In Luke, Jesus addresses the whole assembly of common people, speaking as one of them. Like the prophets he speaks boldly and clearly: you, the poor, are the first beneficiaries of the promises of God.
Matthew instead adapts Jesus’ words to his audience of Christian believers. The Church had already spread and Christian communities brought together all kind of people: slaves, ordinary people and wealthy ones.
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