Prepare to Listen. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Prayerfully Read Matthew 5:17-20
17‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’
Liberal, conservative, words used today in divisive ways. We assume that Jesus and Christians are either one or the other. Since we insist on our personal biases, our divisions widen. Jesus, however, can’t be pigeon-holed into our preferences. In fact, Jesus is both a liberal and, at the same time, a conservative. And we’re to be like him!
No doubt Jesus’ Jewish audience called him a liberal, fearing he was abandoning the Law of Moses for something new and radically different. A true liberal is willing to critique and change when needed. They reject conserving the old for the sake of the party. But Jesus was also a conservative. He freed us from the law, but he didn’t abolish it. Instead, he said, he came to fulfil the law in his own life.
We’re to be liberal in our willingness to repent, change our ways, correct oppressive interpretations of God’s Word. And like Jesus, we’re to be conservative, upholding God’s Word. “We must not imagine,” writes Stott, “that when we have the Spirit we can dispense with the law, for what the Spirit does in our hearts is, precisely, to write God’s law there.” We must be as conservative as the scribes and Pharisees, keeping the law. But also liberal, going beyond them because, as Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The pure in heart are able to do this.
What struck you about Jesus words today?
Respond in Prayer
Lord, guard me from divisive ways that separate people into liberal or conservative and teach me to conserve what is essential and change what isn’t and thus oppressive. Amen.
Live Obediently. Be liberal, giving life. Be conservative, keeping Jesus’ words.
 Stott, John R. W. Christian Counter Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1978, p. 75.
Prepare to Listen. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
Prayerfully Read Matthew 5:13-16
13‘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. 14‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In 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.’
You are salt and light, not you must be or you have. You are. There’s nothing you can do about it. As Bonhoeffer writes, “It is not for the disciples to decide whether they will be the salt of the earth, [the light of the world] for they are so whether they like it or not, they have been made salt [and light] by the call they have received.”
This means that Jesus’ disciples are men and women who can influence the world. This is amazing, begging the question: “What possible influence could the people described in the beatitudes exert in this hard, tough world?” What can the poor in spirit, or the meek, or persecuted, possibly do to influence a world that sees them as too feeble and poor to achieve anything significant?
Jesus disagrees. We, he says, are the ones with power to influence the world for good. But, as he warns, we must maintain our saltiness and display our light. This warning should alarm us. We could lose our ability to influence the world for good if we allow ourselves to be conformed to the ways of the world. And let’s face it, it’s tempting to seek power through wealth and politics. We spend time and money promoting and demanding that our ideas of right and wrong be upheld. As a result, our salt becomes contaminated and we’re in danger of being “thrown out and trampled under foot.”
Is the world experiencing us, the church and individuals as salt and light?
“Where does the world need salt and light right now, and how can we, through following Jesus, provide it?”
Respond in Prayer
Give me the grace and courage to be what you made me—salt and light to influence a world in great need. Amen.
Live Obediently. Be what you are: salt and light in the world.
 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company. 1978, p. 105.
 Stott, John R. W. Christian Counter Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1978, p. 57.
Prepare to Listen. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Prayerfully Read Matthew 5:9-12
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Peacekeepers are people who oppose and even refuse to participate in war. Often they fear confrontation and give in, whether they agree or not. Peacemakers are more than peacekeepers. They take seriously the call to Christians to “seek peace and pursue it” and “live peaceably with all.” They seek to reconcile quarrels and conflict, engaging in “the ministry of reconciliation” to which all Christians are called. These are the people who “will be called the children of God.”
One morning a group of us were reflecting on these words of Jesus when one asked, ‘Who calls them peacemakers?’ It startled me because I’d always presumed that God does. But that morning we were all challenged to take a second gaze. Who indeed calls another a peacemaker, in other words, God-like? I recalled words of Kathleen Norris who, when asked if she called herself a Christian, replied, “My problem with that is that so many people who publicly identify themselves as Christians are such jerks about it.... I often wondered if being Christian was something we could, or should, claim for ourselves; that if being a Christian meant incarnating the love of Christ in my own life, then maybe it would be best to let others tell me how well, or how badly, I’m doing.” She has a point. Perhaps we should let the world should call us children of God because they experience our peacemaking practices.
What challenged and/or encouraged you in these words of Jesus today?
Respond in Prayer
Jesus your beatitudes challenge how I think about living the Christian life. I’m not sure I’m nearly there yet, so I pray again that you will keep working in me so that my life is as you describe here. Amen.
Live Obediently. Like God our Father, be a peacemaker.
Note: Many, if not all, the Beatitudes are illustrated in stories of Jesus. I will, therefore, highlight that when I see it, using the Beatitude as either the heading or the prayer of preparation. Keep alert to a story that reminds you of one of these Beatitudes.
 Biblical quotes, in order are from 1 Peter 3:11; Romans 12:18; 2 Corinthians 5:18.
 Norris, Kathleen. The Cloister Walk. New York, NY: Riverhead Books. 1996, p. 73.
Prepare to Listen. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Prayerfully Read Matthew 5:7-8
7Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
The words pure and purity, as John Dear notes, set off alarms. Some equate it with rigid perfectionism that has little room for mercy towards those who don’t live according their moral standards. Others focus on sexual abstinence, which, while good, can become oppressive, rather than life giving. But here it is, out of the mouth of Jesus: Happy are the pure in heart. Perhaps Dear is correct, “This Beatitude alone is worth a lifetime of study, a lifelong spiritual search.”
The first word to focus on is heart. This isn’t an external purity governed by adherence to some moral code. It’s about the heart, that place that governs all our living. Jesus, following in the tradition of his Jewish heritage, has a lot to say about the heart, from which both good and evil come. When the psalmist asked, Who will see God? the answer was, “Those who have clean hands and pure hearts” (Ps 24:4).
Therefore, we must reflect on what it means to have a pure heart. Transparency is what came to my mind. The pure in heart are governed by integrity, a singlemindedness that frees them from inner division. They possess a desire for truth, they do not, “lift up their soul to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully” (Ps 24:4). They are utterly sincere. A pure heart influences both our spiritual and public life—whom we support and vote for; our relationships with those who are different to us. In other words, we will never be the same again when we are pure in heart. And we will see God, one day.
If this beatitude involves a lifelong study and spiritual journey, how can you begin this study and journey today?
Respond in Prayer
Jesus, your words aren’t for the faint of heart. Give me strength to keep my heart pure so that I see you. Amen.
Live Obediently. Seek truth and singlemindedness.
 Dear, John. The Beatitudes of Peace. New London, CT: Twenty-third Publications. 2016, p. 80.
 “And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying….” (v2, King James Version.)
 Dear, 2016, p. 79.  See Mt 12:34; 15:8.
Prepare to Listen. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Prayerfully Read Matthew 5:5-6
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
I was a teenager when the Rolling Stones sang, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Evangelists said, ‘Come to Jesus and you will have satisfaction.’ And it’s true, there is satisfaction in Jesus, but not yet. Jesus taught: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” In other words, blessed are those who can’t get no satisfaction. It’s as if Jesus said, as Richard Rohr suggests, “Make sure you’re not satisfied…. Keep yourself in a state of deliberate dissatisfaction.” Followers of Jesus, he says, are blessed when they live with a constant hunger and thirst, now, in the present. Not the hunger and thirst of the self-centered, me-oriented person who just wants to please her/himself. Hunger and thirst for righteousness, for God. Then we will find it.
Perhaps we often think righteousness is about being morally upright and no more, which is important. But there’s more to it. The word in Greek, as Rohr maintains, “clearly means ‘justice.’” It has social implications, promoting liberation from oppression for all peoples, civil rights, integrity in business and government, respecting each other in society and in our homes. It means being appalled at the lack of justice in the treatment of aliens, minorities, women, the poor. If we hunger and thirst for the reversal of injustice and for restoration for all peoples, we will, Jesus said, “be filled.” The promise is future--will. Meanwhile, we live in dissatisfaction and wait in hope.
What do you hunger and thirst for?
Respond in Prayer
Keep me dissatisfied, Lord Jesus, until justice comes for all your creation. Amen.
Live Obediently. Be dissatisfied.
 Rohr, Richard. Jesus’ Alternative Plan: The Sermon on the Mount. Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media. 2022, p. 163.
Prepare to Listen. I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD. (Zephaniah 3:12)
Prayerfully Read Matthew 5:3-4
3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Despite the many sermons I’ve heard and books I’ve read on the beatitudes, I still don’t understand them. Which is surprising because, in one sense, beatitudes are simple. Jesus used simple words. But they have anything but a simple meaning. After all the sermons and books failed to help me, I realized that beatitudes, like proverbs, can only be grasped with the heart, not merely the mind, through repetition and life experience. I discovered, as Stott notes, “The more we explore their implications, the more seems to remain unexplored. Their wealth is inexhaustible. We cannot plumb their depths.” Which is why we’ll take a go-slow approach with these nine blessed are, beginning with: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Notice its paradoxical nature—the poor, those who have nothing to speak of, possess now (not in the future) the richest of treasures, the kingdom of heaven. They’re poor yet rich! Poverty humbles people, forcing them to seek help outside of themselves. The poor of spirit are humble and lowly, utterly dependent on God. They admit they can’t cope on their own, that the salvation they’re called now, not merely in a distant future, is beyond their ability to live alone. They swallow their pride and humbly depend on God for all that is needed to live life fully and freely. They seek refuge in God alone, admitting their inability to take care of themselves. They’re the people God promised to leave in our midst.
What does it mean to you to be poor in spirit? Try practicing this today.
Respond in Prayer
Lord, keep teaching me what it means to be poor in spirit so that I experience, in the now, the kingdom of God. Amen.
Live Obediently. Practice poor in spirit.
 Stott, John R. W. Christian Counter Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1978, p. 30.
Prepare to Listen. In a moment of stillness and silence, rest in God’s assurance: I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)
Prayerfully Read Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’
Up a mountain, far from the clamoring crowds, Jesus “began to speak and taught [his disciples], saying….” Up a mountain (Sinai) God gave Moses the law, a manifesto for how Israel was to be and to live. Up a mountain, Jesus revealed his manifesto for how his followers are to be and to live (chs 5-7). It describes the way the world should see us, that is, as Stott states, “Different! Jesus emphasized that his true followers, the citizens of God’s kingdom, were to be entirely different from others.” Not in the future, but now and always. Therefore, the first two weeks of Lent will focus on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5-7, as we seek fresh encounters with the living Christ.
The Sermon begins with nine “Blessed are….” The blessed (the Greek word means happy) aren’t the successful, healthy, prosperous, powerful, as we sometimes think today. The blessed are the poor in spirit, mourners, meek, hungry and thirsty, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and yes, even the persecuted. Jesus describes an upside-down world that we’re invited to join. Blessed are doesn’t mean, you must be…. As N. T. Wright notes, “if we think of Jesus simply sitting there telling people how to behave properly, we will miss what was really going on. These ‘blessings’, the ‘wonderful news’ that he’s announcing, are not saying ‘try hard to live like this.’ They are saying that people who are like that are in good shape. They should be happy and celebrate.”
As a Lenten practice, memorize the beatitudes, one at a time, daily repeating it so that it shapes your heart.
Respond in Prayer
Lord, I don’t often understand your teaching, but I know it takes time and patience to do so. Help me live with your words, one beatitude at a time, so that I experience you more deeply and live more like you. Amen.
Live Obediently. Listen to Jesus’ words and live with them today.
 Stott, John R. W. Christian Counter Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1978, p. 18.
 Wright, N. T. Matthew for Everyone Part 1. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. 2004, p. 36.
to Prepare to Listen. Pause in silence and stillness; rest in God’s assurance: I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)
Prayerfully Read Matthew 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ 4But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’ 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’ 7Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’ 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” He went from the emotional high of his baptism, that “great moment of vision, when his sense of God’s calling and love was so dramatically confirmed,” to face a brutal attack from God’s long-time adversary, the devil. The devil immediately cast doubt on God’s declaration given as Jesus came out of the water, “This is my son, the Beloved” (Mt 3:17). The devil said, “If you are the Son of God.”
This is how the devil works, casting doubt on what God has said, or on our sense of self-worth, our calling, our gifts. The devil has been doing this since the dawn of time, saying to Eve (and Adam beside her) in Eden, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ Surely not, the devil seems to imply. The first humans doubted and fell.
The devil used the same trick on Jesus. Did God really say you’re “my Son, the Beloved”? But Jesus wasn’t fooled. His trust in God’s words was unshaken, a settled conviction deep within and he had the power to resist the devil, so the story ended very differently to the Eden story and to so many of our own. The devil was foiled and “left him.” He’d be back but would fail again and again, even at the cross. Jesus prevailed because he knew and trusted God his Father.
Hear God’s word to Jesus as if spoken to you and trust that today.
Respond in Prayer
Lord, I know I am your beloved. Help me live that with confidence today. Amen.
Live Obediently. Trust God.
 Wright, N. T. Matthew for Everyone Part 1. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. 2004, p. 25.
Despite having frequently read and taught Matthew's Gospel, preparing these daily devotions, taking that second gaze, has surprised me with newness.