4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1ST Reading — Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13

About the time of Josiah’s crowning (Josiah brought in righteousness and reform), the Book of Zephaniah records for us the voice of reaction against the idolatry practices in Manassah’s years.  Zephaniah was a fiery preacher whose wrath against pagan practices and hatred of Assyria were matched only by his devotion to Yahweh.  In the previous chapter, Zephaniah says God will “search Jerusalem with lamps” (1:12) to find the guilty and punish them drastically, “their blood poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung” (1:17).  (Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament, p. 340-341)  You know that stage we all go through when we are tired of things being wrong and we have this energy toward making things better and right?  It feels like Zephaniah was in that stage and was imploring the people in Jerusalem to be in it with him.

But this energy needs to be brought to the Lord humbly, and Zephaniah is aware of that too.  It can’t just come out of our own egos.  Humility (in Latin humilitas, from the earth) brings a groundedness.  It is allowing God to be our shelter in the storm.  Joan Chittister says, “Humility enables me to stand before the world in aw, to receive its gifts and to learn from its lessons…It is when we cease to be our own god that God can break in,” The Illuminated Life, p. 55-56.How does this sit with you today?

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 26 –31

This early community was for the most part, “a motley assembly which included free people, tradesmen, and slaves, along with a few (not many) people of higher standing.  It was also a mixed group of both Jews and gentiles, males and females.  This diverse character of the early church was one of the most striking features of the Jesus movement.  It was a unique ‘melting pot’ of cultures and classes who professed to accept each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord. This life in Christ was a ‘calling’ from God to care for each other and to complement each other as the united body of Christ in the world. This diversity also created tensions and obstacles that only with God’s grace could they overcome. (Celebration, Jan. 1999, and 2005)

For Paul, boasting in oneself rather than in the Lord is perhaps the supreme sin – or the root of all sin. This was the trouble Paul saw in the Corinthians. They were becoming too sure of themselves – instead of the Lord. They boasted of their own wisdom – or the wisdom of their ‘clique’ or faction. They thought themselves as superior to other people; they had forgotten that to the outside world they would probably be regarded as the ‘dregs of society’ – not wise or successful. They needed to remember that the ground of their ‘salvation’ (fullness of life) is Jesus Christ. So do we.  (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

The Gospel — Matthew 5: 1-12a

The Beatitudes are Jesus’ way of life; they need to be our way also.  These words come at the end of Jesus’ Great Sermon from Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5-7. This section contains far more than Jesus would ever have said in one sermon. This ‘Sermon on the Mount’ is the essence of Jesus’ teaching, a kind of “epitome of all the sermons that Jesus ever preached.” (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 84)

Jesus is trying to impart true wisdom, true worth to his ‘disciples’ – those who were listening to learn from him. If we were to make a list of what we want out of life, we might have compiled quite a different list. We look for the ‘good life’ filled with at least some riches and honor and prestige. But riches can tempt me to let what I own substitute for who I am. Admiration can turn my head from being thankful to the One who created me to being overly convinced of my own power and importance. All of these things can create a false identity because they are ‘out there’ – instead of ‘inside’. Within each of us is the gift of who we are called to be – who God created to help bring his love to this world. God loves this real self within each of us. He does not care how we dress or how respected we are. God calls us to be what we really are: persons who are loved and who can love in return. The beatitudes make deep sense. We need to live from this ‘home within’ where God’s presence is ever generating new life and true love. Then we will be blessed – and so will all who know or live with us.(John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

Of course, this is all very counter-cultural – back in Jesus’ day and in our day. And so, we will not find all ‘these blessings’ easy ones. But if we are willing to embrace the blessing along with the difficulties – along with the pain and suffering and even persecution involved – then we will find true consolation, true wisdom and, in the end, true blessing –a blest happiness that no one can take away from us. (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Embodied” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

Another problem – these beatitudes may allow us to think that God wants us poor and abused. But there is a difference between humility and being humiliated. We may meet a lot of people who are poor, powerless, or vulnerable; no one should want to be these things. Sometimes our religious language can get distorted. Being humble is a virtue; humiliating or abusing someone is a sin, a crime. Such crime calls out to God for justice. We need to be part of God’s answer not part of the problem. We should never encourage someone to put up with abuse or humiliation. We may at times find suffering and even persecution as we stand up against such unfair actions, but we are called to hunger and to work for righteousness, for all that is good and just.  (Exploring the Sunday Scriptures, February, 2002)

The Beatitudes are about finding God present and active in our lives now. They are about letting God give us a joy that can shine through tears – a joy that pain and grief cannot overcome. Spend sometime in prayer thanking God for all the ways God is present to you.

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