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.
1st Reading — The Book of Revelation (7: 2-4, 9 – 14)
This is the last book of the Bible. It abounds in unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism and language. This type of apocalyptic writing uses symbolic colors, metals, garments and numbers. It tries to show graphically how awful evil is and how much it offends the goodness of God. This book has its origin in a time of crisis and persecution, but it remains valid and meaningful for Christians of all time. In the midst of horrible evil and suffering, we are called to trust and remain faithful to Christ and to a God whose care is ever with us – and will be with us for all eternity. No matter what adversity or sacrifice we may endure as Christians, we will end in triumph over evil and pain. This is its enduring message. It is a message of hope and consolation and challenge for all who dare to believe. (The Catholic Answer Bible, Fireside Catholic Publishing, pp. 1372-1373)
Symbolism according to Word of God Lutheran Church for the Deaf in Iowa:
East: Or the place the sun rises. This is often connected somehow with God.
Seals: Hide the secrets of the future. Only God knows them and opens them.
144,000: All of God’s people. 12 means God’s people, and 10 means complete. Cubed (10x10x10) is holy and perfect. 144,000 (12x12x10x10x10) is really ALL of God’s people, holy and perfect.
White: Clean & pure, or victory & triumph.
Elders: There are 24 elders: 12 Old Testament and 12 New Testament
4 Living Creatures: Cherubim or seraphim, like God’s personal servants. They are very close to God and His throne and carry His word.
Throne: Where God is, the center of all His glory and power.
We often think of saints and martyrs as sort of ‘out-of-the-world’ holy people – far beyond our own experience or sense of goodness. But this Sunday should remind us that they were also ordinary folk like us. We should find encouragement along with the challenge. God doesn’t judge us only on our weakness but on our persevering in our willingness to give of ourselves for the good of others. The simple, everyday things we do will wash us in the blood of the lamb. Our smile is a saintly one. Our gesture of kindness is an expression of blessedness. Simple, kind, ordinary ways of giving of ourselves brings the kingdom of God’s love and goodness closer . . . (Living Liturgy, 2003, p.236)
2nd Reading – 1 John 3: 1-3
This letter is dealing with ‘false teaching’ from within the Christian church around the year 100 A.D. Some were denying the true humanity of Christ; some also misunderstood what it meant to be Christian. This reading is dealing with the second problem. Some people were claiming to be already perfected. They saw no need for moral effort. The writer is trying to encourage them not to rely on their own strength or ‘perfection’ – but on the goodness and love of the Father that Christ has given us. We are his children and must trust as children and live as children of this good and caring Father.
(Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )
But isn’t it true that when we are questioning our faith, our journey, our identity…we are also questioning where love is in that deep well in ourselves? We need to be reminded that God’s presence is here. God is with us. God’s love will never leave us. It is knit in our bones. And right now, not just when we think we “have it all together”. This letter from John speaks to that inner conflict we sometimes have.
The Gospel – Matthew 5: 1-12a
This Sermon on the Mount was “the concentrated memory of many heart to heart” talks that Jesus probably had with his disciples. This is what he would teach them. Matthew writes that Jesus “sat down” – the typical position of a rabbi when he was teaching. He also says: “He opened his mouth and taught them.” This Greek phrase meant two things: 1) it was used of a solemn, serious, and dignified utterance – often used when referring to the saying of an oracle. 2) It was also used when a person was really opening his heart and fully pouring out his mind – an intimate and profound teaching.
Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .
The Greek word for poor that is used here is ptochos. It means absolute and abject poverty. It describes the one who has nothing, a beggar. In Hebrew and Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, this idea of poverty underwent this kind of development: it meant poor, and because they were poor they had no power, or help or influence or honor or prestige. Finally, because of all this, they had no hope except to put their whole trust in God. So the poor came to describe the one who was humble and totally reliant on God: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” (Ps. 34:6) See also Psalms 9:18, 35:10, 68:10, 107:41 to name just a few.
**We must be careful not to think that Jesus is saying that actual material poverty is a good thing. Jesus would never declare ‘blessed’ a state where people live in slums and have not enough to eat, and where health rots because conditions are all against it. That kind of poverty we as Christians are called to remove.
Blessed are they who mourn . . .
The word used here for mourning is the strongest word for grief in the Greek language. It is the passionate lament for a loved one. It is the kind of grief that cannot be hidden. It is a sorrow that calls for compassion from others – and that Jesus reassures us will come from God. God does not send ‘suffering’ – but God can help us cope with it – and even learn from it. Sorrow can ‘drive’ us to the deep things of life. We are also called by Jesus to be people who deeply care about others, who empathize and feel with them. As God became one of us in Jesus, so are we called to unite with others. It is right to be detached from things, but it is never right to be detached from people. We are asked by Jesus to care intensely about the sufferings and needs of others – to mourn over the evil and sickness and blindness in this world – to work with God to comfort and overcome the suffering where we can.
Blessed are the meek . . .
The Greek word for meek, praus, expressed a great ethical idea. It was the happy medium between too much and too little anger. It was also commonly used to describe an animal that had been domesticated, trained. It was also the opposite of pride and “lofty-heartedness’. It meant true humility. It is a quality that helps us to realize the truth about ourselves — that we need to learn and to be forgiven – that we need to be God-controlled: gentle towards others and open to God’s Holy Spirit.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst . . .
Few of us really know what it is to be hungry or thirsty. In our abundance, we rarely starve for food or die of thirst – even if we use these words often. Yet, this is the kind of hunger and thirst that Jesus is talking about –a starving and thirsting for goodness, for what is right. God does not care just about our achievements, but also about our dreams – our yearnings – our hungers. If we hunger and thirst for God’s goodness, Jesus tells us that God will supply our need.
Blessed are the merciful . . .
The Hebrew idea for mercy that Jesus is using means the ability to get right inside the other person’s skin until we see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel with his feelings. This is what God did in Jesus: God came to be one with us. Jesus is asking us to let God help us to reach out in the same way to others.
Blessed are the pure in heart (clean of heart) . . .
The Greek words for pure is katharos; it has a variety of meanings. It means clean, such as soiled clothes that have been washed clean. It was also used to describe corn or wheat that had been winnowed or sifted and cleansed of all its chaff. It also was often used to mean unadulterated or unmixed – such as a pure metal or wine. Jesus is calling us to be people who are sincerely who we are – not to be fake or have hidden agendas.
Blessed are the peacemakers . . .
The Hebrew idea of peace is expressed in the word shalom. It means everything which makes life good, full, healthy. It is the presence of all good things. We are called not just to be peace-lovers, but peace-makers. It can be that if we love peace in the wrong way, we may allow a dangerous or threatening situation to develop and not take any action to prevent it because we ‘just want peace and quiet.’ As peacemakers, we are not to pile up troubles for another day, but to do all we can to create life-giving situations. What this beatitude is demanding is that we do not passively accept things because we are afraid of the trouble of doing anything about them, but the active facing of things and the making of peace even when the way to peace is through struggle. We are to make the world a better place for all to live in – to help create right relationships with all others. Peacemakers are people in whose presence bitterness cannot live – people who bridge the gulfs and heal the broken – and sweeten the bitterness of life. Such people do God’s work.
Blessed are those who are persecuted . . .
Jesus is honest; being his follower is not going to be easy. But it is the way God will bless this world with God’s presence and strength. It is the way to abundant life. Jesus wants us to remember that despite persecution and hardship “Our help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Ps. 121)
(Wm. Barclay, The Daily Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1)
This feast day was originally one for the early martyrs, when there were so many that all the names could not be listed. This is long before there was anything official about canonization. Also, in the New Testament all baptized Christians were called saints, hagioi, holy ones. The Greek means, ‘called as saints.” (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. ) Who or what do you think of on this day?
The Communion of Saints is an important reminder that our relationship with God and with Christ is both vertical and horizontal, and that our relationship is always mediated. “In the lives of those who shared in our humanity and yet were transformed into especially successful images of Christ, God vividly manifests to humankind his presence and his face. He speaks to us in them, and gives us a sign of his Kingdom, to which we are powerfully drawn . . . our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ.” (R. P. McBrien, Catholicism, Vol.II, 890; Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church)
“What Jesus wants from us is not admiration, but imitation . . .the incarnation is still going on and it is just as real and as radically physical as when Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, walked the dirt roads of Palestine.” (Ronald Rolheiser, Holy Longing, 74, 76)
Those in heaven live fully with God,
yet they remain united to us in love . . .
They pray for us.
They worship with us.
They lend us their spiritual strength in our weakness . . .
In the Eucharist, the whole communion of Christ,
living and dead,
gathers around the table . . .
we experience a profound closeness
with those who have gone before us . . .
It is a marvelous gathering of heaven and earth!
(Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,#49)