Introduction to the Beatitudes:
In your first discussion of the Beatitudes with your children or pupils, have them read the verses which introduce the Sermon on the Mount. You might wish to start back in chapter four, verse 23, of Matthew, to show what Jesus was doing:
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.
And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.
And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from beyond Jordan.
Scholars agree that the specific words used in the opening verses of Matthew 5 contain special meaning for the Jews at that time, who would have understood what was happening:
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
The phrase “when he was set” – or sat down – means that the teachings to follow are “official.” The rabbis of that time would always sit down to give their most important teachings, as opposed to the things they might say on a stroll. So, we know that here Jesus is telling his disciples that what he is about to say is not something casual, but of paramount importance. That is probably why Matthew wrote them down in a permanent record.
The phrase “opened his mouth” is a tranlation of a term used to signify that something both solemn and from the heart is being spoken. It is not given lightly nor to be taken lightly.
The phrase which is used for the words “taught them, saying” is one which would indicate that this was not a one-time sermon, but was “something taught repeatedly.”
Barclay summarizes what Matthew wanted to get across to those who heard or read the words of the Sermon on the Mount, by telling us:
The Sermon on the Mount is greater even than we think. Matthew in his introduction wishes us to see that it is the official teaching of Jesus; that it is the opening of Jesus’ whole mind to his disciples; that it is the summary of the teaching which Jesus habitually gave to his inner circle. The Sermon on the Mount is nothing less than the concentrated memory of many hours of heart to heart communion between the disciples and their Master.
Explaining the Concept of the Beatitudes to Children:
At first glance, the Beatitudes appear to be a bit more difficult to get across to children than the Ten Commandments. While the Commandments are rules that tell us rather plainly what we should do, or not do, the Beatitudes are statements outlining what we should be feeling or desiring within our own hearts. Our inner struggles to abide by the Beatitudes are not always evident to others, and it is not always so clear to ourselves what we should be doing to live up to the spirit of each Beatitude. I hope this manual will be of help in that direction! Our ultimate daily Guide, of course, is God.
You can tell the children that the “Beatitudes are attitudes to be”! Also, you might point out that the Beatitudes are set forth in degrees: we can start with the first — whether it is used in working out a specific problem, or, guiding us in our life-long spiritual journey — and when we have understood and applied that first Beatitude, we move on to the next. I used to tell my youngest Sunday School pupils that the Beatitudes were like “stairsteps to heaven.” We would write out the first Beatitude on a sheet of paper, and tape it to the wall next to our table. That was the first step. When we were
ready to learn the next Beatitude, we would tape a second sheet on top and to the right. Over time, we would build a set of “stairs,” that we could refer to when needed.
Another way to explain both the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes is to liken them to traffic signs. The Ten Commandments are like the traffic signs that tell us when to stop and go, or yield. They are there to protect us, and provide a way for people to be treated fairly. If you are a parent, you might take your children to an intersection of roads that has either stop signs or a traffic signal. Have them observe how useful the signals are. Ask them what might happen if someone did not obey the signs. In a way, the traffic signs are expressions of Love, as well as Principle, since they protect everyone and provide fair access to the intersection. Tell them that the Ten Commandments are like that. However, the Beatitudes might be said to serve as our direction signs, or guide posts, along the way of our spiritual journey. Just as local street name or highway signs do, the
Beatitudes let us know where we are, and if we are heading in the right direction. If we find that
we are successfully demonstrating those qualities and attitudes that Jesus recommended, then
we know that we are taking the right spiritual path.
With the above introduction to the overall subject of the Beatitudes, your children or Sunday School pupils are now ready to start discussing the individual Beatitudes.
(Excerpted from “First Lessons in Christian Science, Volume Two: The Beatitudes” Copyright 2002)