At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew depicts Jesus with the crowds gathered around. Jews and Gentiles alike came up the mountain to hear him. His message was for everyone. The sermon opens with a series of eight blessings, known to us as "The Beatitudes."
The Beatitudes are not a set of rules for living. They are a set of blessings, declarations about the abundant grace of God that brings happiness to people with various virtues and in various circumstances. It is generally held that this blessedness or happiness is the character given to Jesus' followers as the free gift of God.
Look at those whom Jesus said are blessed: the poor, the sorrowful, those who hunger and thirst, those who suffer persecution. Where is the happiness in that? In the beatitudes, Jesus shows that life involves both success and failure and God is in it from the beginning. God’s blessing is not dispensed as a reward for our successes nor withheld as punishment for our failures. We live our lives the way we do not to earn God’s blessing but in grateful response to the blessing already given to us. If that is an epiphany for you, imagine how it must have impacted those who heard Jesus’ words for the first time on that Galilean hillside.
I am reminded of a woman I once heard about who walked the streets carrying a broom in one hand and a pail of water in the other. When asked why she carried the broom and pail, she would reply, "To sweep heaven out of the skies and to quench the fires of hell so that people might love God for himself." Love Divine has blessed us from the beginning. How can our response to such Love be aspiration for a reward or fear of punishment. Love prompts a loving response. Love is best answered by love.
This is the story of the cross, the story of our baptism, and the story of the banquet we celebrate at the start of every week. The Cross comes before us, Baptism comes at the beginning of our discipleship, and the Holy Eucharist is celebrated at the beginning of every week for the same reason Jesus' Sermon on the Mount begins with the beatitudes: We are blessed from the beginning.
To all kinds of people in all kinds of places and circumstances, the Beatitudes declare, “You are blessed. You are accepted. You are included in the love of God. Be at peace!” We don't have to prove anything to God because we are blessed from the beginning. The deepest hungers of life will be satisfied not by what we can do for ourselves or what others may do for us, but by the One who became the living bread and came to give us life. When we live our lives from that blessedness, we are a blessing to others.