"the people who sat in darkness
Herod has John the Baptizer arrested.
Jesus hears about this and splits for Galilee.
He settles in a lakeside town and teaches his message, which was John the Baptizer's message, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand," and begins to organize.
He approaches two men casting nets and two other men mending nets and says come I'll make you networkers for the gospel.
Jesus went around Galilee, teaching about the community (as some prefer to call it) of heaven and healing people. Crowds gathered to be cured of demon possession, epilepsy, and paralysis, and his reputation as a healer spread beyond Galilee to "the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judaea and Transjordania" and people came from those places to be healed.
Matthew's gospel is a documentary composed of documents from various sources which were edited in a particular form to present to the community that grew out of this movement Jesus started by the Sea of Galilee. It is instructive to read Mark's narrative to see where Matthew makes his cuts, and where he pastes discourses attributed to Jesus. Since Matthew and Luke used the same sayings of Jesus, scholars write of a hypothetical document that consisted entirely of Jesus' oral doctrine and anything they remembered him saying.
Mark's storytelling more dramatically shows the appearance of an opposition among certain powerful groups and portays the Pharisees as collaborators with Herod against Jesus, but at this point in Matthew the Pharisees have not yet started to troll Jesus. John is in prison and Jesus is a superstar. Matthew cuts to Jesus performing on a hilltop, speaking to the disciples gathered around him.
What is he saying?
Blessed are the poor in spirit? What if someone led a movement today and his message was, Blessed are the schizophrenics who live on the streets of the cities? Blessed are the elderly who are waiting to die in rehab centers, blessed are those who are so sick we can't stand to look at them? Blessed are those locked in prisons and forgotten? Blessed are the collateral damage to surgical military strikes? Blessed are the peacemakers who show up to every anti-war protest for every war and know its all hopeless, but will somehow feel guilty if they don't don't march and chant and circulate petitions? Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after justice and know that the ruling class will never let it happen?
What is this "blessing"?
“Obamacare’s ‘good news’ applies only to the poor," some conservative columnist recently wrote. Jesus' good news was also aimed at the poor because they would benefit from the change that was coming. For me, "the Pharisees" represented the conservative religious type who insisted on a doctrinal purity based on a literal reading of ancient texts, who taught that poverty and illness were punishment for sin, and who prevented rational universal healthcare from coming about, and who sold out to the gods of the military industrial complex. As a young christian leftist I considered the Moral Majority televangelists to be the new Pharisees. Not a perfect analogy, but not a bad metaphor. In the gospels, the Pharisees are ultra-conservative scholars of the law who are so intransigent they condemn miraculous healing as demonic, or a violation of the Sabbath.
If we translate "community or kingdom of heaven" to mean a possible world, a just society, an approximate utopia, and imagine how this could look, we don't want to design a healthcare system based on faith healing. Whatever Jesus was doing that inspired stories of miraculous healing, how does that help us now?
I also want to know if the gospel writers were being fair to the Pharisees.