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The Beatitudes: The new Law given by the new Moses

On the Readings for Sunday, January 29, 2023

Detail from "Sermon on the Mount" by Cosimo Rosselli (1439–1507) []

• Zeph. 2:3; 3:12-13
• Psa. 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
• 1 Cor. 1:26-31
• Matt. 5:1-12a

During this Sunday’s Gospel reading we hear the Beatitudes, among the most well-known and oft-quoted sayings of Jesus. The Beatitudes consist of nine “Blessed are…” statements that together form an introduction and doorway to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

In Jewish literature, beatitudes were common in works having to do with worship and wisdom, such as the Psalms, Proverbs, and the Book of Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon). They described a situation in which God’s blessing is experienced and they exhorted the listener to live in a way that would lead to such a blessing. For those who ignore the beatitudes, condemnation is either described or implied. In this way they echo the structure of blessings and curses found in the Law of Moses.

A connection to Moses and the Law is clearly made in the description of Jesus going up to the mountain to teach. “With this great discourse,” writes Pope Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth, “Matthew puts together a picture of Jesus as the New Moses…” This is firmly rooted in the promise of a great Prophet made to Moses and the people of Israel during the Exodus: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deut 18:18).

Jesus, the New Moses, did not come to do away with the Law and the prophets, but as he clearly states later in Matthew 5, “to fulfill them” (Mt 5:17). This is an essential point, because the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount have sometimes been misinterpreted as tossing out or overthrowing the Old Testament. That was never the intent of Christ, who showed by word and deeds the deeper and perfect meaning of the Law and the prophets—a meaning that can only be found in Him.

The Beatitudes have also, at times, been misconstrued as somehow outlining a political or utopian social project. This view either misses or rejects both the Jewishness and the divinity of Jesus Christ. Today’s Old Testament reading from the prophet Zephaniah is a perfect example of the emphasis on humility and lowliness found in the prophets. Such humility, which is the recognition of who we are in relation to God, must be present in order for God’s blessings to be realized. This hints at the paradox fully disclosed in the Beatitudes.

It is the poor in spirit, the meek, and the mournful who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Or, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.” In these paradoxes, writes the Holy Father, “the standards of the world are turned upside down as soon as things are seen in the right perspective, which is to say, in terms of God’s values, so different from those of the world.”

The Beatitudes, Benedict XVI further notes, are “eschatological promises.” That is, they orient us toward our final end and the purpose of our existence. Yet they are not just about thinking of the future, but about living now in the firm hope of the future. The Beatitudes, states the Catechism, “shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life; they are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulations; they proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured, however dimly, for Christ’s disciples; they have begun in the lives of the Virgin Mary and all the saints” (CCC 1717).

They offer the challenge of discipleship in concrete terms: becoming meek, seeking righteousness, showing mercy, making peace, having a pure heart, enduring persecution and insults for the sake of Christ.

The world looks upon the Cross and sees weakness, failure, and shame. Those who hear the words of the New Moses and embrace His Cross see the wisdom of God and experience sanctification and redemption. “Rejoice and be glad,” says the Savior, “for your reward will be great in heaven.”

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the February 3, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1200 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. The Beatitudes of Armageddon

    When I was about eight years old, the readings at Mass were Jesus teaching on The Beatitudes. After Mass I asked my priest, “Where do all the wicked people go when the meek, humble and pure of heart inherit the earth?” My Priest did not answer my curiosity. It was later in life, after reading Psalms 37, that I finally understood what happens to the unrepentant wicked when the meek, humble and pure of heart inherit the earth.

    Matthew 5:5 The Beatitudes
    Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land

    Psalms 37:9
    Those who do evil will be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD will inherit the earth. Wait a little, and the wicked will be no more; look for them and they will not be there. But the poor will inherit the earth,…
    …The wicked perish, enemies of the LORD; They shall be consumed like fattened lambs; like smoke they disappear. The wicked one borrows but does not repay; the righteous one is generous and gives. For those blessed by the Lord will inherit the earth, but those accursed will be cut off….
    …When the unjust are destroyed, and the offspring of the wicked cut off, The righteous will inherit the earth and dwell in it forever….
    …Wait eagerly for the LORD, and keep his way; He will raise you up to inherit the earth; you will see when the wicked are cut off….
    …Sinners will be destroyed together; the future of the wicked will be cut off. The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD, their refuge in a time of distress. The LORD helps and rescues them, rescues and saves them from the wicked, because they take refuge in him.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul, 1146
    “Write: before I come as a just Judge, I first open wide the door of My mercy. He who refuses to pass through the door of My mercy must pass through the door of My justice.”

    Divine Mercy in My Soul, 429
    I heard these words spoken distinctly and forcefully within my soul, “You will prepare the world for My final coming”.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul, 635 The Blessed Virgin Mary
    you have to speak to the world about His great mercy and prepare the world for the Second Coming of Him who will come, not as a merciful Savior, but as a just Judge. Oh, how terrible is that day! Determined is the day of justice, the day of divine wrath. The angels tremble before it. Speak to souls about this great mercy while it is still the time for [granting] mercy. If you keep silent now, you will be answering for a great number of souls on that terrible day.

    Please be sure to receive Jesus’ recent, year 2000, gifts of Divine Mercy Sunday this coming April 16th. It is through Jesus’ gifts of Divine Mercy that places you into the meek, humble and pure of heart, category of earth inheritors. Take refuge in Jesus’ Divine Mercy!

    Hallelujah! There will be Peace on Earth!

  2. It took poor Moses 40 years to get something of value done with the Israelites, whereas Jesus of Nazareth did infinitely more in three years. The comparison a kindly gesture.
    What’s missing in the Beatitudes are guys that don’t fit the description [let’s not forget the wonderfully meek Moses, that he killed an Egyptian with his bare hands]. I can’t conceive of any devotee of Christ other than the Apostle Paul. Paul [after his conversion] cursed the troublesome coppersmith Alexander, handing him over to Satan. Chastised the Corinthians, ‘How can you be so stupid!’. Wished that Pharisee converts who insisted on circumcision would castrate themselves in the process. Jesus whipped the money changers hurling their monies, tables [and caged pigeons] to the floor. Told his Apostles how long must I suffer you, a sharp rebuke of their density [poor uneducated fishermen]. Meekness apparently is to be understood, how should I say, in real life.
    Can we read the Beatitudes with modification, modifications that realistically meet the circumstances? Not circumstances as applied in Amoris Laetitia that neutralize moral precepts. Rather recognition of our humanness. Otherwise, a to the letter attempt at practice would leave us with overly docile sheep ready to roll over when threatened. For example, balanced with other Christ’s words, ‘Do not think I have come to establish peace, but division’. ‘How I wish to see the fire, the flames leap up!’.
    Especially during our current challenge within the Church, when orthodoxy, the words of Christ are misrepresented, it seems the envisioning of meekness by bishops, as well as most clerics is exaggerated. Mustn’t we take to heart the entirety of the revelation of the Word? And certainly to be balanced by the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue (Collatio 6 super Credo in Deum).

    • Mistaking Paul’s admonishment of Galatians with Corinthians is the least that is wanting in this self complacent ramble [as if to say after coming back to it, did I write this?]. Perhaps the benefit will be suffering it for humility.

    • Also what’s missing in the Beatitudes is the foundational Commandments–so often pretended to be replaced by Christ and his Beatitudes, rather than fulfilled. About which, this:
      “He who seeks the energies of the Spirit, before he has actively observed the commandments, is like someone who sells himself into slavery and who, as soon as he is bought, asks to be given his freedom while still keeping his purchase money” (The Philokalia, vol.I.)

      A good reality check and opening retreat-sermon for the 2023 Synod on Sin-nod-ality! After all, the authoring Orthodox Churches are also said to be the model for synods.

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