Sermon on the Mount

Format for Holy Hour

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1–48

Note: This meditation could easily be used for the entire holy hour or longer.

The Sermon on the Mount can be found in Matthew’s Gospel in Chapters 5–7. Luke provides a much shorter version that is referred to as the Sermon on the Plain (See Luke 6:17–49).

Though the entire Sermon on the Mount takes up three chapters in Matthew’s Gospel, Saint Ignatius specifically recommends Chapter 5 be used during the Exercises. If you wish to also use Chapters 6–7, try to dedicate a full holy hour for each chapter using the prayerful method of contemplation.

The RSV-CE version of the Bible adds nine different headings in Chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel:

  • The Beatitudes (v. 1–12)
  • Salt and Light (v. 13–16)
  • The Law and the Prophets (v. 17–20)
  • Concerning Anger (v. 21–26)
  • Concerning Adultery (v. 27–30)
  • Concerning Divorce (v. 31–32)
  • Concerning Oaths (v. 33–37)
  • Concerning Retaliation (v. 38–42)
  • Love for Enemies (v. 43–48)

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1–12)

Read verses 1–12 prayerfully. Then take each line and use it for an extended meditation.

Verses 1–2: Ponder these four points:

  • First, He saw the crowds. Imagine the crowds for a while, their desire to see Jesus, the draw they felt, their hunger for His words.
  • Second, imagine Jesus “seeing” them. What did He perceive? Consider His love for them. See Jesus seeing this gathering crowd.
  • Third, He went up the mountain and sat down. This was a way for Him to gently invite people to gather around. Imagine the excitement people felt as they sensed Jesus wanting to talk to them.
  • Fourth, Jesus taught them. Imagine being there. Hear His words, look at His facial expressions, His tone of voice and His mannerisms as He taught.

The next eight lines present eight Beatitudes. Each one ends with a reward. The rewards are easily desired, but the path to that reward can be challenging. We are called to poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, mercy, to endure persecution, etc. Read first the eight rewards and allow yourself to be drawn to them with much desire.

After pondering and desiring the rewards of the Beatitudes, consider each “path” to that reward. (See verses 3–12)

  • Poverty of spirit: a detachment from everything other than God and His holy will
  • Mourning: a deep sorrow, especially over your sin and the sin in the world
  • Meekness: humble, teachable, open to the Gospel, patient under suffering
  • Hunger and thirst for righteousness: a deep desire for God’s order to be established in all things
  • Mercifulness: forgiving, generous in the face of greed, kind in response to anger, love in response to hate, etc.
  • Purity of heart: single focus in life is love of God and others
  • Peacemaker: seeks to bring God’s true peace to every situation. Interior peace no matter what happens
  • Persecuted for righteousness’ sake and for the sake of Christ: unshaken by the sins of and persecution by others for doing the will of God

Salt and Light (Matthew 5:13–16)

Through your life of charity toward those around you, you must be like salt.

  • Salt preserves food from corruption. Your life must do the same for others by grace.
  • Salt brings out the flavor of food. You must help bring out Christ in others’ lives.
  • Salt disappears into food. You must do the same by making a difference with humility.
  • If salt loses its taste… If you lose the presence of Christ, your life is ineffective for the purpose for which you were made.

Let your light shine…

  • The “Light” shining forth from you is Christ.
  • Do your thoughts, words and actions reflect the Light of Christ?
  • What sort of influence do you have on others?

The Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17–20)

  • Do you violate the laws of God? Or do you live a life of complete obedience?
  • Fulfilling the will of God must be your deepest passion and desire.
  • To be “righteous” is to be holy. And to be holy is to conform completely to the will of God.
  • The Old Testament only brought people so far. The new law of love of God and neighbor brings you to perfection.

Concerning Anger (Matthew 5:21–26)

  • Even the least amount of unholy anger kills and must be eliminated.
  • You must have hatred for sin (your own and others’) but that cannot overflow to any person. 
  • Do you deeply desire the good of every person? Even those who have hurt you?
  • Ponder your struggle with anger and seek to eliminate even the smallest thought of anger you have toward others.

Concerning Adultery (Matthew 5:27–30)

  • Sins (in this Scripture the sin of adultery) are not fully overcome until they are eliminated even in your heart.
  • Do you commit sinful acts externally? If so, stop it.
  • Do you commit these acts in your thoughts and desires? If so, fully commit yourself to the eradication of these interior sins.
  • To say “pluck out your eye” or “cut off your hand” is a way of Jesus telling you to spare no amount of energy in overcoming even the smallest interior sins of your life. This is the only way to the perfection of holiness.

Concerning Divorce (Matthew 5:31–32)

  • Christ, the new Lawgiver, restores the original intent and purpose of marriage and removes the concession given to those of the Old Testament.
  • The new law of Christ is possible to fulfill only by His grace.

Concerning Oaths (Matthew 5:33–37)

  • Be persons of truth and integrity, especially in your relationship with God.
  • Be honest in what you think, say and do.
  • Seek to have honest relationships with others.

Concerning Retaliation (Matthew 5:38–42)

  • The Old Testament permitted “justice” in that it permitted one to seek “an eye for an eye.”
  • The New Law of grace calls you infinitely beyond this.
  • Mercy and forgiveness now satisfy justice. To be merciful and forgiving does two things: 1) It invites you to acknowledge the evil done in all truth; 2) It calls you to then let go of that evil and turn it over to God.

Love for Enemies (Matthew 5:43–48)

  • The New Law of Christ calls you to have no one as an enemy. You should “hate the sin but love the sinner.” Jesus set this example when He cried out from the Cross, “Father, forgive them…”
  • The final line summarizes this entire chapter, “…be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
  • There is no limit to the depths of holiness to which you are called.

Featured Image: Carl Bloch, Sermon on the Mount

Introduction to Meditations for Ordinary Time

  1. Baptism of the Lord
  2. Two Standards
  3. Three Classes of Men
  4. Temptation
  5. Calling of Apostles
  6. Wedding at Cana
  7. Cleansing the Temple
  8. Sermon on the Mount
  9. Calming the Storm
  10. Walking on Water
  11. The Apostles were Sent to Preach
  12. Conversion of Mary Magdalene
  13. How Christ Fed the Five Thousand
  14. Transfiguration of Christ
  15. Resurrection of Lazarus
  16. Supper in Bethany
  17. Three Ways of Humility

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