Matthew 5 begins the longest recorded sermon that Jesus gave, called the Sermon on the Mount. The first 12 verses of this speech are called the Beatitudes, whose Latin root word beati comes from the Greek, (μακάριος, makarioi). The meaning of this word is recognized by many scholars as analogous to saying "how honorable is...." (See Jerome Neyrey's article, "Honoring the Dishonored: The Cultural Edge of Jesus' Beatitudes.). These conferments of honor stand in contrast to the "woes" (which can be read as "how shameful...") given by Jesus to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-21, here illustrated by Malina and Rohrbaugh:Matthew 51 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into the mountain: and when he had sat down, his disciples came unto him 2 and he opened his mouth and taught them, saying 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven 4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted 5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth 6 Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled 7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy 8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God 9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God 10 Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven 11 Blessed are ye when [men] shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you
|Honor Attributions (Blessed are....)||Shame Attributions (Woe unto you...)|
|Addressed to disciples||Addressed to opponents|
|Opens public career of Jesus||Closes public career of Jesus|
|"theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (vs. 3, 10)||"you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven" (v. 13)|
|"hunger and thirst for righteousness: (v. 6)||"on the outside look righteous" (v. 28)|
|"merciful....mercy" (v. 7)||"neglected....mercy" (v. 23)|
|"pure in heart" (v. 8a)||impure (v.27)|
|"children of God" (v.9)||son of Gehenna (v. 15)|
|"in the same way they persecuted the prophets" (v. 12)||"descendants of those who murdered the prophets" (v.31)|
With this in mind, the Beatitudes are grants of acquired honor by God to those that are, among other things, "poor in spirit". According to Neyrey, the poor (πτωχός, ptochos) mentioned here are more than just monetarily destitute - they are people bereft of any and all social support. In other words, no family. While childless widows can be considered a ptochos, the group of people Jesus is "blessing" are those who have been ostracized by their community. These are the people that can't defend their honor and are reviled and shunned. For what reason? The answer is in the climax of the Beatitudes:
Members of society, such as followers of Christ, who are regarded as shameful and deviant often undergo excommunication and ostracism in an effort to be shamed back into the fold. Jesus isn't telling his disciples to ignore honor, however He is telling them to hold fast to the only opinion that truly matters - God. To that end, Jesus promises to honor and vindicate those that hold fast to His teachings. Furthermore, Jesus attempts to render the opinion of hostile society moot by saying that they are descendents of the murderers of the Old Testament prophets. In other words, opponents of the Christian movement have abysmal ascribed honor inherited by blood-stained blasphemers, ergo their opinions on what constitutes honorable actions are irrelevant.Matthew 58 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God 9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God 10 Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven 11 Blessed are ye when [men] shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you
Jesus is exhorting His disciples to do good works which will shine (that is, become obvious) to the outside world. By doing so, God will be honored ("glorified") and so will you.Matthew 513 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men 14 Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid 15 Neither do [men] light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house 16 Even so let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven 17 Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfill 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished 19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven 20 For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven
In agonsitic societies where honor and shame are core values, an affront to one's honor requires seeking satisfaction - that is, attempting to restore the honor lost by taking revenge on the offending party. Seeking satisfaction can lead the other party to do the same, and so on, leading to blood feuds which in turn lead to violence and disunity in the community. Jesus here stands against this "eye for an eye" mentality when it comes to interpersonal conflicts. Instead of seeking vengeance, Jesus wants His followers to "turn the other cheek" and not respond in kind. However, this isn't a call to be passive door-mats. There are two things to consider here:Matthew 521 Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment 22 but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire 23 If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee 24 leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift 25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art with him in the way; lest haply the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison 26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last farthing 27 Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery 28 but I say unto you, that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart 29 And if thy right eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body be cast into hell 30 And if thy right hand causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body go into hell 31 It was said also, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement 32 but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery 33 Again, ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths 34 but I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by the heaven, for it is the throne of God 35 nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King 36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black 37 But let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil [one] 38 Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth 39 but I say unto you, Resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also 40 And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him twain 42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away 43 Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy 44 but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you 45 that ye may be sons of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust 46 For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same 47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more [than others]? do not even the Gentiles the same 48 Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect
- In honor-shame societies, if a person who is regarded as honorable is shamed unjustly, it is the social obligation for an outsider to defend him. Jesus is telling His disciples not to defend their honor by seeking satisfaction; but the implication is to let someone else defend it for them. This, of course, ties in with being a "light of the world" - a disciple of Jesus should have an established history of doing good deeds so that society will recognize their honorable character in the first place.
- By saying to lend your cloak in addition by the coat demanded by somebody and also to go two miles instead of one (a demand given by Roman soldiers to peasants to carry their armour and supplies for them), in effect Jesus is saying to shame your challenger by overdoing it.
We'll continue this series next time.
- Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: FORTRESS PRESS, 2003).
- Jerome H. Neyrey, Who is Poor in the New Testament?, http://www.nd.edu/~jneyrey1/Attitudes.html
- Jerome H. Neyrey, Honoring the Dishonored: The Cultural Edge of Jesus' Beatitudes, http://www.nd.edu/~jneyrey1/loss.html