Matthew chapter 5
Had you been a first century Christian, you would most likely have been a Jew. A Jew who fervently believed that Jesus was the promised messianic leader. Now this "promise" and the signs to be expected relative to its imminent fulfillment were to be found in sacred scripture, what we today continue to revere as God's Word in the Old Testament. Some of these texts were quite obscure and thus subject to heated debate among scholars. Others were less obscure and were, in fact, foundational to the hopeful expectation of every pious Jew. Remember that the Jews of Jesus' time were a conquered people and were living under Roman rule. It is understandable that the Messiah of their dreams was not only a religious leader who would strengthen their ties with the one God, but also a military leader who would send Caesar's legions running back to Rome. To be a Christian Jew in this environment meant that you believed that the Messiah had indeed been born, had spent 3 years gradually revealing that although he was a far cry from what most had expected, he was indeed the embodiment of God's promise and more, much more than that, he was literally the embodiment of God ...and of all things, a pacifist!
This did not go down well with the establishment and, in fact, led to His execution on Calvary.
In the decades that followed, it became more and more difficult to be a Christian and a member of the synagogue as well, and in time, Christians were formally expelled from the synagogue.
That this caused much grief and hardship is an understatement. Many could not cope with the implications of exclusion, and so they abandoned Christianity. Those who remained did so with heavy hearts and, I am sure, nagging doubts.
Matthew tried to encourage them. His account of the life and times of Jesus was eventually committed to writing because it was imperative that men and women who were immersed in the spirit of the Old Testament, would find in those very texts full justification for their acceptance of Jesus.
Furthermore, Matthew's gospel not only seeks to find prophetic reference to Jesus in the Old Testament, but also substantial affirmation of the spirit of the Old Testament in the words of Jesus. Like a two-way street ...the Old Testament prefigures the New Testament, and the New Testament reflects the Old Testament. Thus are the two testaments bonded into one continuous history of salvation. The beatitudes were made to order for this - they resonate with the spirit of Moses announcing the covenant.
And so, the Christian gospel was seen not only to be in harmony with key elements of the Old Testament, but to be their historical extension. This created a comfortable pew in the Christian church for loyal Jews.
The beatitudes emphasize the importance of grace, ethical admonitions and guidelines for life in a community - values upon which Christianity depends, as well as values held in esteem by Old Testament writers.
These first Christians found great consolation in the words of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. It provided continuity with everything that they had been raised to consider sacred. In this way, they grew in confidence, able to live in obedience and humility in spite of being thought of as foolish by many of their dearest relatives and friends.
Suffering marginalization for the sake of one's faith and moral stance is sometimes part of our lives too.
Blessed are those who are rejected by modern society, who suffer insult, disrespect, loneliness and separation from friends or family because of loyalty to Jesus and His church. Their reward, like that of their brothers and sisters of the first century, will be eternal and may they too seek consolation in God's Holy Word.