Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – A – Jan 30, 2011
It is a bit of a cheek to preach a sermon about the greatest sermon ever preached. For that is surely what the Sermon on the Mount is, and the Beatitudes are its summary. As an extraordinarily important religious text it stands by itself, and all we can do is talk around it and give thanks to God for it.
Who will enter the Kingdom?
First, it should be noted that the blessings of the today's Gospel are not only the program of the sanctity or the program of Christ's life, but they are primarily self-characterization of Christ Himself. He alone is poor in spirit, crying and quiet, humble and merciful, pure in heart, hungry for justice. He certainly is the peacemaker, and He suffers for righteousness and is persecuted; it is about Him that others utter all kind of evil words and lies. This is certainly a perfect picture of "Ebed Yahweh" - Suffering Servant of God, an image present in the Old Testament. It is worth remembering when we read those beautiful words. So who wants to follow Christ has to make these words the program of his life, both private and professional. It may not be a separation or gap between what I do on Sunday and my every day's life.
We should also notice the importance of the word "blessed." The word certainly can be understood as a promise of holiness, but furthermore it could be understood as the promise of God's blessings in once life. If I act in my life like that, if these principles are the guidelines of my daily life, I will receive God's blessing. The expression of these blessings is the fact, that with each blessing is associated a "reward" or promise.
The poor in spirit, will inherit the kingdom of heaven
The second meaning of the word "blessed" is closer to our contemporary desires and longings. We could even say that Jesus is telling or proposing us: "you could be happy only if you live this way." Do not be greedy, do not be too noisy in your life, be just, be merciful, be peaceful and not chaotic, have a pure heart and clean look, see the second man and honour him, and at the same time be prepared for misunderstandings, the mockery, the lies and disdain, the unpopularity, for the fact that you will not be "trendy" that sometimes you will not be "politically correct". But the prize, which you will gain exceeds significantly, what you (apparently) lost.
Many times I thought about the blessings of today's Gospel: Is it worth quoting again these beautiful words of the Beatitudes, and we ponder over them:
Their reward is
Blessed (happy) are:
· the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,
· those who mourn, they shall be comforted,
· the meek, they shall inherit the earth,
· those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they shall be satisfied,
· the merciful, they shall obtain mercy,
· the pure in heart, they will see God
· the peacemakers, they shall be called sons of God,
· those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven ,
· blessed are you when people insult you, rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven
· blessed are you when you are persecuted,
· blessed are you when others utter all kinds of evil against you because of me
In which of these categories can I recognize myself?
Am I not:
too rich and selfish?
or screaming and loud,
unfair and indifferent, merciless?
does my heart, vision, thoughts do not flood the dirt and moral disorder?
or maybe my whole life is one big struggle and war with others?
Do I really live the spirit of the 8 beatitudes?
Will my reward be rather ... emptiness, loneliness, disappear? I have not seen the other, I was ignoring and neglectful and ... through eternity I will be alone ... unhappy, rejected, sad, abandoned ... just watching myself, because I always thought only of myself and for myself I lived! There is still time to change, yet I can change my life, I can still see the others, and stop living for myself.
One of the reasons it is the best sermon ever given is that Jesus treats his hearers with great respect. He gives no explanations or long detailed clarifications. He simply tells them some important truths which once heard seem self-evident to his listeners, who are if anything only strangely puzzled that they hadn't thought of them themselves.
We call it the Sermon on the Mount, a mount is just a sort of small hill or hummock; just high enough so that Jesus could be heard by the assembled company. But we immediately recognise that it is meant to be a parallel with Moses when he came down the mountain with the tablets of stone on which were engraved the Ten Commandments.
Yet despite the obvious similarities the two situations could not be more different. The differences are a sermon in themselves. They show how differently God chooses to deal with his people.
There was the great mountain with its blasted rocks and dense clouds and here is the grassy knoll in the sunshine.
There was Moses the fierce old man trying to hold his people together as a cohesive group; here is Jesus who respects the individuality of each human being and who builds up his followers with extraordinary gentleness and patience.
There were the tablets of the law, full of do's and don'ts and with the fear of punishment behind them; here are the Beatitudes which bring untold blessings on those who are embraced by them.
Truly things had come a long way by the time of Jesus, but after all so had we. Moses was there at, near enough, the beginning, Jesus is the culmination of all that went before. God revealed himself only slowly through the centuries but we now see him revealed in his fullness in his son Jesus.
As we have frequently said, to be a Christian is not to be a follower of a set of rules, it is to be born again, it is to live a new life. It is to turn around and see things from a totally different perspective.
Here in the Beatitudes Jesus gives us a completely new set of spectacles to look through.
Here in the Beatitudes we see the values of this world turned upside down. We see the world through the eyes of God himself. Through the eyes of the one who does the blessing, the one who makes the life of the poor, the gentle, the mourners, the fighters for justice and peace, the pure in heart and the persecuted, the one who makes all their lives a Beatitude.
The Beatitudes are a privileged glimpse at the world through the eyes of God. They are a wonderful opportunity to see things as they really are.
I clearly remember going to Scotland when my 92-year-old Aunt Helen died. She had been looked after by her ninety-year-old brother, John, but they never got on, even though they had lived in the same house all their lives.
That is until she took ill and was unable to do anything for herself. Then he opened his heart to her, he sold the smallholding where he spent most of his time and devoted himself to her care.
She couldn't communicate but John talked to her all day. He dressed her, cleaned her up and even fed her with a spoon. The place was an absolute tip but he cared for her with all the love and concern he had in him.
When she died I went to see him. He said words I can never forget: I never knew what love was, not till Helen got ill.
It was as if his whole life had been a preparation for those few years spent caring for her in her frailness and infirmity.
He said something else which is also imprinted on my memory: “other people don't understand. They think that what they see is the real world. But we know that there is another world that's just behind this one. And there it’s the things you can't see that really count.”
My Uncle John knew what the Beatitudes were about because he lived them out in his own life.
There are many people in the same position, we meet them every day, they wouldn’t recognise the Beatitudes if they fell over them in the street but they live them out each day of their lives. They have become Beatitudes to the people around them—like Jesus they are goodness and truth personified. And not a few of this congregation are counted in their number.
Fr. Alex McAllister SDS from the page: