This new edition of French author George Chevrot’s The Beatitudes lays out in dramatic detail the extraordinary impact that the message of Jesus Christ had on the first witnesses to his public preaching which became known as the Sermon on the Mount. Read an excerpt from Chapter 1 below.
An Invincible Conqueror
Obviously, Jesus could not subscribe to such a distortion of the personality and purpose of the Messiah. When he announced the approach of the kingdom of God, he immediately added, “Repent.” In other words, think differently, reform your hearts, convert. Very few understood the full import of this warning. To a nation dreaming of a holy war and the mastery of the world, Jesus preached that self-mastery and the struggle against sin would be the conditions for the world’s reformation. This was the dramatic aspect of his mission: that the more the Savior would emphasize its spiritual character, the more he would see the Chosen People turn away from him: that people who had been charged by Providence with preparing for his coming on earth.
Nevertheless, Jesus’ contemporaries did not read God’s plans wrongly by thinking that the Messiah would transform mankind’s earthly lot. The kingdom of God, inaugurated by Our Lord, looks to two goals: the eternal future which he is announcing ought not make us forget the temporal future, of which the theater is the earth. The Savior’s mission cuts into the history of mankind to permeate its middle as well as its end. “His gospel will have a double efficacy; it will win heaven for the inhabitants of the earth, but before that it will bring heaven’s climate down to earth by transforming the present life of mankind.
The Son of God joined our race in an epoch when the condition of humanity was already different from that shown us in the first pages of the Bible. There had been a great advancement in minds and in hearts. Now Jesus must return to earth to introduce all the children of his kingdom into God’s eternal glory. This return to Christ will take place when “all things are put in subjection under him” (1 Cor 15:27), which implies that there will be an improvement in humanity, to the extent that God’s rule spreads over the earth.
Believe in the gospel (Mk 1:15) said the Messiah. To carry out Jesus’ will, they must direct mankind’s forward march towards God. The unprecedented progress of science offers new conditions of existence to humans in the future; to the developments of modern technical skill corresponds a psychological and social evolution of humanity. These earthly improvements are in conformity with the Creator’s plan.
We Christians know the splendid end and purpose of mankind’s evolution: that it is called to become a divine family. It is for us to save our fellows from any deviation. Not only ought we to believe that the earthly improvement of our race is made certain by scientific progress, that a future for humans on earth is made possible and inevitable by the raising of cultural standards and a more acute sense of justice among ourselves, but we have as our role to direct the course of this advancement toward its true end, which is God. And that, for the Christian of our time, is what is meant by the kingdom of God on earth.
More than ever let us echo Jesus’ invitation: Believe in the gospel. His doctrine is no anachronism. The gospel does not belong to a past that is over and done with. Whatever be the claim of those who, knowing it badly, have repudiated it, they have not surpassed it by their repudiation. In wandering from the gospel they are gravely compromising mankind’s progress,“which will always be bound up with our divine vocation.
The gospel is the future which comes to meet the men and women of our time. It has never yet been fully realized by any human society. Besides, the closer people get to it the more they perceive that the gospel is calling them to go further, higher. It is not therefore a matter of retracing our steps, of going backwards to return to Christ, but of advancing and hurrying to rejoin him. Christ is always going on ahead of us; it is humanity that stands still or falls back when it does not follow him.
In deciding to meditate on and to live the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, we are not giving ourselves over to the study of something that only looks back to the past but are taking up a task that is very much of the present day, the true task of every Christian. Let us take seriously the prayer that Jesus has us address to God: Thy kingdom come! It will come finally, only with the end of the history of mankind. From here below, day after day, let us beg God to help us to be active workers for his kingdom on earth. It does not concern our happiness alone, but also the present and future, temporal and eternal, welfare of humanity.
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