Do you think it’s difficult to fight against arrogance, injustice and hatred without being part of the problem ourselves?
‘Blessed’ means truly or ultimately happy, whereas ‘woe’ is an expression of regret, compassion and warning. (‘The Son of Man’ was one of Jesus’ most common ways of referring to himself, picking up on a mysterious prediction in the Hebrew Scriptures — Daniel 7 — of a human being who would somehow share the throne and authority of God himself.)
What strikes you about the characteristics of the ‘you’, the disciples, who Jesus describes as ‘blessed’?
Jesus speaks with complete authority about ultimate reality, but what he says is profoundly subversive. How would you imagine his radical perspective might have changed people and society as it spread out across the Roman world?
By themselves, the blessings and woes might have been used to justify contempt or hatred for the rich and powerful. How does Jesus’ teaching here begin to subvert our human tendency to fight fire with fire and ‘become a monster’?
Does the connection Jesus makes in verses 35-36 between what God is like and what he calls his followers to be like make sense to you? Why or why not?
Having reached the heart of his message (verse 36), Jesus turns in the second half of his sermon to the subject of humility, calling his followers to imitate God by being merciful to others, not because they are perfectly ‘godly’ but precisely because they are deeply in need of God’s mercy themselves.
What do you find attractive about the attitude Jesus calls us to have in these verses? What do you find difficult?
What point do you think Jesus is making with each of the two illustrations he uses in verses 41 to 46? Together, how do they challenge and humble those who would see themselves as a good person in contrast to others?
In his final illustration (verses 46-49) Jesus returns to the kind of ‘ultimate reality check’ which he started with in the blessings and woes. What do you make of his subversive claim that someone can seem secure, satisfied and morally virtuous, and yet ultimately turn out to be none of those things?
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian Nobel Laureate who was a prisoner in one of Stalin’s gulags for 8 years, wrote this in his masterpiece The Gulag Archipelago:
Do you think your life would make a better impact on those around you if you believed what Solzhenitsyn says? Does Jesus’ teaching here strike you as a good and solid foundation on which to build a meaningful life?