Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Seventh Grade Bible Study: Matthew, Chapters 5-6

 More Matthew for 7th Graders: notes on chapters 5 and 6, from the Sermon on the Mount. 


Matthew Chapter 5

We keep hearing how great crowds flocked to Jesus to hear him, how he taught and proclaimed the gospel of the Kingdom. What was it those crowds were hearing that drew them so much to Jesus? Matthew gives us an example of Jesus’s preaching here in the Sermon on the Mount, three chapters of parables and instructions and prayers and teaching. At the end, Matthew says, “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”

Imagine living in a world where no religion embraced the concept of mercy, and where breaking the religious law could mean death or social disgrace, with no way for you to make things right unless you could afford to make offerings to the temple for sacrifices. Imagine living in a culture where wealth meant that God had blessed you, and poverty was seen as a punishment. Imagine a culture where sickness or disability were seen as curses, and people who suffered were seen as having less dignity. Imagine living in a country that has been conquered, where the ones with the most power are the ones with the most weapons and military strength, and where you and your family are routinely humiliated and taxed by people who hold everything you value in contempt.

Doesn’t sound so different than right now, does it? Now listen to Jesus’s teaching -- God talking directly to us, in the words he wants us to hear -- and see if you hear anything astonishing.


1: “his disciples came to him”: people who are already followers of Jesus still need to hear his words over and over again.

How does each Beatitude reflect Jesus, who is God himself?

2: “Blessed” -- think of the Hail Mary: “Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou among women.” “Blessed” means “full of grace”. When we live according to the Beatitudes, we are full of grace.

3: “Poor in spirit”: What does it mean to be poor in spirit? We know what it means to be poor in body, or in possession. How can you have a poor spirit, and why would it be a good thing? And yet it doesn’t mean having no spirit at all, or being a mental slave, because Jesus says that the poor in spirit will be given the kingdom of heaven. Could it be someone who trusts God for all their blessings, instead of relying on their own mental powers (which are themselves a gift from God)? Kind of like the people who claim, “I only believe what I can observe with my senses,” as if their senses aren’t themselves a gift from God.

4: “Mourn”: mourning makes us uncomfortable, because the loss is so big that it’s beyond our power to soothe the pain. It reminds us how small and helpless we are. But Jesus says, “They will be comforted.” By who? By God himself, who knows our pain.

5: “Meek”: Jesus calls himself “meek and humble of heart” in Matthew 11:29. So he himself will inherit the land -- so much for Satan thinking he could tempt Jesus with power! 

6: “Hunger and thirst for righteousness”: Jesus doesn’t say “those who go out and impose righteousness on others”. We are called to long for righteousness, and to practice it first in our own lives. The satisfaction of this desire for righteousness comes from God, not from our own work.

7: “Merciful”: Jesus makes this point in several parables. The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you. First we are given mercy by God -- the necessary starting point! -- and the sign that we have received that mercy and let it work in us is that it overflows to other people. Mercy is an action, not a feeling. We don’t have to feel warm and cuddly to offer mercy. It is enough to be united to Jesus, offering his mercy to others.

8: “Clean of heart”: also translated “pure of heart”. The pure of heart are single-minded, focused on God, and so letting God’s light shine through them like clean glass. Impurities, either sexual or some other kind of sinfulness, cloud our vision and absorb our focus, constantly distracting us from God’s presence. He doesn’t go anywhere when we feel far from him! It is we who pull away from him.

9: “Peacemakers”: Jesus calls to be active peace makers. God has the power to create, and he gives us his own power to make peace in the world, starting with how we treat those around us, whether they’re our family members, our friends, or our enemies. We can make peace by showing mercy, by being clean of heart, by being meek like Jesus himself. Remember, he is God, and what he says is true!

10-12: “Persecuted”: Jesus promises that we will be persecuted if we live according to these beatitudes. He also promises us the kingdom of heaven, which is a pretty huge reward. Do you feel persecuted? Do you feel misunderstood when you try to do the right thing? Jesus is giving us the power to be freed from worrying about what the world thinks of us, because we already know we’re going to be misunderstood. He’s giving us permission and authority not to be afraid of the opinion of others. But also look at what he says: “for the sake of righteousness”. He’s not giving us permission to be a jerk or to push our own opinion on other people, and then claim we’re being persecuted when people don’t like that! We also need to pay attention to the other beatitudes and remain meek, pure of heart, merciful, etc. Everything works together in the kingdom of heaven.

Salt and Light

13-16: Salt preserves, keeps food from going bad, and gives a better flavor. If it doesn’t do those things, what is it good for? (But God can bring good out of all things -- we know that salt underfoot can serve a purpose in cold and icy weather!) 

Jesus calls himself “the light of the world”. And he calls us the light of the world, which means that the light that shines in us is his light. We reveal Jesus to others! If we hide that light because we’re ashamed of it, we are not being true to ourselves or to him. And our good deeds should point others to God and glorify him. Otherwise, they’re like salt that has lost its flavor -- it’s there, but serving no purpose. 

Teaching about the Law

17-20: If Jesus abolishes the law, that mean that the law was bad. He comes to fulfill the law, to show us the deep reality underlying the laws and rules the Jewish people followed. That is why we don’t want to teach people, either by our words or through our actions, to disregard God’s commandments. We want to live so that the underlying truth behind the commandments shines through us. 

Who were the scribes and Pharisees? Religious authorities who seemed to think that just obeying rules externally made them righteous, without letting God’s love shine through them. God gives us his laws, not so that he can ding us when we aren’t perfect, but to guard our hearts and souls (and the hearts and souls of those we live with) as we “grow in age and grace and wisdom” and understand more and more about the rich love of God.

Teaching about Anger

21-26: Here Jesus starts to teach about how the law that the scribes and Pharisees think they’re following so carefully actually reaches into every little nook and cranny of our lives.

This is very personal for anyone who’s ever been angry at their brother! It’s easy not to actually kill your brother. It’s very very hard not to be frustrated with him, or to fight with him, or to see all the things he does wrong and blame him for them. And it’s a reminder to us that we wish people would understand our every little weakness and good intention and be merciful to us, and so we need to extend that same mercy even to the people we think we understand the best -- because God made them and loves them with the same deep love he has for us.

Teaching about Adultery

27-30: We often think that our thoughts are safe because no one can see them. But not only does God see into the depths of our heart (understanding things about us that even we don’t know), but what we think influences how we treat others, even if we don’t realize it. The bond of marriage is sacred, and it’s a great sin to be physically unfaithful. But it’s also a sin to use another person in your thoughts, because each person is made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus uses some vivid imagery to make his point. If it would be better to lose your hand (a major, painful loss) than to risk losing happiness with God forever, wouldn’t it be better and easier to change something that seems so little and hidden: the way we treat people in our minds?

Teaching about Divorce

31-32: Jesus is pointing to something very real and sometimes painful: that the bonds of marriage are real bonds, that create real connections. Even the legal action of divorce cannot sever those bonds, and this is especially obvious when the marriage brings forth new life. (Every child of divorce knows this.) Marriage isn’t something we can put on or off at will, or a legal contract with an escape clause. It is a reflection here on earth of God’s eternal faithfulness to us. 

It’s also something that can be extremely difficult, which is why Jesus gives us the sacrament of matrimony, so that the love between a man and a woman can truly be the love of God, in good times and in bad. 

Teaching about Oaths

33-37: People in the Old Testament took their oaths seriously and thought that they could somehow compel God’s help by making big promises. Only Jesus, the Word of God, can create by his very words! The only time that God gives our human words his own creative power is in the sacraments. Otherwise, we can swear up and down about something and it doesn’t change reality. There were several Old Testament stories about people who thought that their oaths were so powerful that they had to sin to fulfill them (Jepthah and his daughter, Judges), but Jesus tells us to speak plainly and simply and avoid big talk. Otherwise we just sound silly. We can’t make God do anything by swearing big oaths.

Also, swearing implies that we can’t be truthful without being forced to be. Jesus calls us to be so honest and full of integrity that our “yes” means “yes”, without extra words and promises to make it stick.

Teaching about Retaliation

38-42: We often think that we’re standing up for our own dignity by insisting on payback for the ways that we’ve been hurt. But Jesus shows us a new way: the way of love. The old law prescribed “an eye for an eye” because we often have the instinct to lash out harder and hurt the other person more than they’ve hurt us. But Jesus’s teaching is different than just total equality in everything. We are to give, even more than we think we should have to, and that way we don’t rely on our strength and goodness, but on God’s.

Plus, our very cooperation confounds our enemies and forces them to confront themself -- which is always more effective than being confronted by someone else.

Notice that Jesus is calling us to avoid sinning and doing evil to others, not to cooperate in doing evil. There are many ways we can be meek, peaceful, merciful, etc., without cooperating with bad things.

Love of Enemies

43-48: We are called to be “unusual”! Jesus gives us examples of natural behavior: loving your children; loving those who love you. That may not always be easy, but it’s standard human behavior. But God loves with a supernatural love, a love that is deeper than is naturally possible. His love is stronger than indifference or cruelty or hatred. And he gives us this love so that it will overflow through us to others (and from others to us -- have you ever received love and kindness from an unexpected person?). When he says, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” he’s not telling us to do something impossible. Remember, he’s the Word of God -- what he says literally becomes true. We can only love supernaturally because he gives us that love. And that’s good! It means we don’t have to rely on our own feelings or efforts to drum up love for people who seem unlovable, because all love comes from God in the first place and in the end. 

Matthew Chapter 6

1-4: Jesus just talked about loving our enemies and not just doing loving things for those who love us. Now he’s giving an equal but opposite warning: not to do good deeds just for show. It’s not that we are required to always hide everything we do. But we are required to do it from from love, not for some earthly reward. And there are lots of kinds of rewards: money, popularity, sympathy. God, who sees what is in our heart, can repay us more deeply than anyone on earth can. 

5-8: More caution from Jesus about doing things for show. Again, it doesn’t mean that we’re not supposed to pray in public! We’re not supposed to be ashamed of God. But we also don’t worship him so that others may see us. We worship him so that we (and others) may see him. And he does see us, even if no one else does, because when we are praying in secret, he is right there within us. He knows what we need before we ask because he is always with us. 

9-13: So how do we pray? Jesus gives us a model:

Praise first! Before we ask for what we need and want, we come into God’s presence and give him glory, and that puts everything else into perspective. Our problems aren’t meaningless or stupid, but they also aren’t the only way we relate to God. 

Our Father in heaven: First of all, we acknowledge our unity before God. OUR Father means we are all his children. FATHER means that we are dependent on him, and like him, and that he will always care for us. HEAVEN: He is where we want to be, and when we are truly with him, we too experience a taste of what heaven will be like when nothing separates us from him.

Hallowed be your name: HALLOWED means holy. This is both a statement of fact (your name is already holy) and a hope that his name will be held holy by everyone on earth.

Your kingdom come: Isn’t that what Jesus is always preaching, that the kingdom of God is at hand? And what does he call people to do because the kingdom of God is at hand? Repent. To repent is to turn away from what is wrong, which leads right into the next petition:

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven: How can we know that the kingdom of heaven is here, or that we’re working to bring it about? The kingdom of God is where his will is done. We already know that God’s will is done perfectly in heaven; Jesus tells us so in this prayer. But he also tells us that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven. We can start to taste the happiness of heaven here on earth. Sounds pretty good!

Give us today our daily bread: Jesus knows that we have bodies, and we have to eat. We need to take care of our physical needs, and the needs of those around us. But first: we’re asking God to GIVE us our daily bread. We don’t magically make it appear by our own power. All good things come from him and are gifts to us. We ask for it TODAY, not for a lifetime supply. Jesus doesn’t let us imagine in this prayer that we somehow control the future. God told Moses his name is I AM: right now, the present (for us); existing eternally outside of time, not bound by our conception of past, present, or future. He gives us what we need, when we need it. Our DAILY BREAD: Our bodies need to be nourished every day, and so do our souls, and God gives us what is right for each day. Some days we need to feel his help more; some days we feel stronger. That’s okay. Each day is different for us and we need God’s grace differently, and he supplies it. BREAD: this means our physical food, but it also points forward to the Eucharist, the food that feeds our souls. His bounty never runs out, even though to our eyes it may look like there’s barely enough to keep us alive. 

Also echoes of Exodus 16: the manna.

And forgive us our debts: We are not just sinners, but also weak. Our entire life is a debt to God. He gives and gives and gives as his free gift, and we are in debt to him not because he’s mean and wants to get things back, but because there’s no way we can ever match his generosity and his graciousness. That’s okay! We can’t be as big as God. But we can let him work through us, as WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS. It doesn’t always feel easy. But it’s not impossible. And since we know we have failed God in the past, we pray:

Do not subject us to the final test: Isn’t this a strange prayer? Shouldn’t God know whether we can pass the final test or not (or be strong in the face of temptation, as the more common version of the prayer puts it)? But these are the words of God himself, giving us permission to ask again for his mercy. Even Jesus, the night before he died, prayed that he might be spared, if it was God’s will. We’re allowed to ask for that! Our prayer might not be answered in the way we expect, but God himself tells us to ask him for mercy and help.

But deliver us from the evil one: How much should we focus on the devil and his attacks? Jesus puts him dead last in this prayer. Sometimes people think it’s exciting to think about all the creepy and horrible power the devil has -- look at the popularity of horror movies. But Jesus doesn’t seem too concerned with who is going to be victorious in the end. Does the devil scare you? That’s okay, and Jesus himself gives us permission to pray that we be delivered from him. But he’s very last on the list, and that shows where he should be on our priority list.

Still -- don’t mess with the devil! Halloween is coming up, and people think it’s fun to play games with spiritual powers. Don’t open that door. Keep your eyes on Jesus.

14-15: And what can’t the devil stand? Forgiveness! Our forgiveness comes straight from God. If you’re worried that the devil has a hold on you, pray that you can forgive others. Forgiveness isn’t a feeling, but a choice. It doesn’t mean that you haven’t been hurt, or that the other person is getting off easy somehow. It means you leave them in God’s hands.

16-18: Truly they have received their reward: if you think about it, what could be scarier than the idea of receiving your reward here on earth, with nothing left for eternity? When we do things for show here on earth, we get our reward here on earth. Jesus talks about this in the next section, the idea of laying up treasure in heaven. Here, he’s warning us against doing good things in order to get earthly recognition. Note that he’s not telling us not to do good things! Fasting is good; we know that Jesus fasted. And nothing we do is hidden from God. He sees and treasures every hidden battle we fight. He knows how to truly value our quiet gifts. And his rewards, unlike earthly rewards, last forever.

19-21: What kinds of treasures can we lay up for ourselves on earth? Money, of course; fame; recognition; power; sex; likes on social media. Even the treasure of safety -- of hiding away our gifts or talents because we don’t want anyone to notice us. These things bear no eternal fruit, and they receive no eternal reward. We give our heart easily here on earth, to people or to ideas. How do we lay up treasures in heaven? This is what Jesus has been showing us through the Beatitudes. His whole life is a guidebook for us on how to live in eternity here on earth.

22-23: The eye is the lamp of the body. The eye brings in light to the body; a lamp puts light out. What we look at, what we take into our minds affects the whole body and can even turn our light to darkness. Be careful what you consume! Be careful what you watch and read! Are you taking in good and nourishing books and movies and ideas and conversations that will keep your lamp bright? Or do you consume things that hurt you? Jesus is guiding us to pay careful attention to what we choose to watch and think about.

24: Two masters: who might your other master be? Mammon is a word for money or riches, and we know from above that we can have lots of different kinds of riches. What are you serving? What would you do anything for? What brings you peace and happiness? You cannot serve God and some other thing. 

25-34: “Therefore,” Jesus says, jumping right off the previous statement. How is it that we can stop serving Mammon, whatever Mammon may be? By not being anxious about our lives. Not putting undue emphasis on what we wear, what we eat, all the physical things that are important, but not as important as God. When we put him and his kingdom first, all other priorities fall into line. 

Why? Because he loves us. Look at the extravagant beauty of flowers, or the glorious plumage of birds. And these are things that will pass away quickly, even as we measure time. 

Do we spend time looking at God’s creation? Jesus is almost commanding us to take a walk, to observe all the things that God has made beautiful because he loves beauty, and he loves them. This applies to people as well! Everyone is beautiful because God made them. And he knows what we need, more than we do ourselves.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow”: this is your homework this week. Do not be anxious about tomorrow! Believe that God will send you your daily blessings as you need them, because he loves you so much.

1 comment:

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

I hope you students are getting as much benefit from your class as I am from your outline.