This week i am attending a workshop for pastors on preaching the Wisdom Literature. My texts to prepare are Matthew 5:1-11 and Psalm 1. These share the concept of a Blessing.
Matthew 5:1-12 – ESV
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Some see a progression of the individual in the “Beatitudes” of Matthew 5. Each blessing is seen as a step in the path. The interpretation has a long history, but it seems weak to me for three reasons. First of all, there is an “inclusio” the 1st and 8th beatitudes share the same goal “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” So a circle or switch back is happening here. Second, is the goal of the disciple to be persecuted? Third, the words are plurals (those who mourn, etc), so the progress of the individual soul appears to be an import.
I have experimented with a chiastic structure. Verse 1-2 and 11-12 are Intro and Exit (teacher/disciple; prophet as example) then the beatitudes break out in this pattern. B = Beatitude
A A’ v. 1,2, 11-12 Intro/exit – Teacher/way
B B’ v. 3,10 Poor/Persecute
C C’ v. 4,9 Mourn/Peacemaker
D D’ v. 5, 8 Meek/Pure
E E’ v. 6,7 Righteousness/Mercy
The E/E’ verses at the center might then be the emphasis – and that gives the follower of Jesus the goal to seek Righteousness (or Justice) and to give Mercy. All of which is an echo of
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness(mercy),
and to walk humbly with your God?
I will let you know how this develops.