Breaking Open the Word
4th Sunday of Ordinary Time
January 29, 2023
The readings for this Sunday are wonderfully tied together. In the first reading the prophet Zephaniah is referring to a small group of people of faith which he refers to as the remnant. These are the people who hold on their faith, who remain true to God in a world that seems to turn away from God and reject Him. He is actually referring to the kind of people, this remnant, who, later in today’s gospel reading, Jesus is looking for. This first reading is a prophecy that will be fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus.
The responsorial psalm is like a continuation of the first reading and a bridge to Jesus. Read this passage and think of all the ways Jesus lived His life in fulfillment of this Psalm.
In the second reading St. Paul is addressing followers of Jesus, and noting that they are not wise by society’s standards; in fact the world considers followers of Jesus as fools. You and I probably have met people who believed we have to be a fool to hold on to our faith. But St. Paul affirms what we have experienced, that Jesus is indeed present in the Eucharist, that He does hear our prayers and answers them, often when we look back at our life. We live on a level the non-believers just cannot comprehend. There is a famous quote that applies here: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.”
Today’s Gospel is the beginning of Matthew’s sermon on the Mount, chapters 5, 6, and 7. Study these 3 chapters, they are Christ’s religious education class. A condensed version is Luke chapter 6. In this gospel Jesus is giving us the Beatitudes, which is the roadmap to sainthood in Heaven.
The Beatitudes reveal what it is to be like Christ. They are the program, the formula in the progress to Christian perfection. They do not promise salvation only to particular kinds of people: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted. We are to be all of these people in our growth in becoming more like Christ. And the beatitudes promise the rewards for each step.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, which means humility. This is the opposite of pride. Humility is the beginning step to being more like Christ, the giving up self to God. Pride will always prevent any progress toward any of the other steps, and must be first conquered.
Blessed are they who mourn. With humility in the greatness of God, you can truly be sorry for your sins, and they can weigh heavily on you. Fear of the Lord, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, is having such a deep respect and awe of God that you disdain and avoid sin out of reverence. Likewise you dread your past sins; but Jesus says you will be comforted. A good confession is like a heavy weight lifted off of you.
Blessed are the meek, controlled strength. The promise is to not conquer the land but to inherit it. The meek will gain it through patience, kindness, trusting in God, the very nature of Jesus. It is also the letting go of anger and rage. The land which we really want to inherit is our home in heaven. Read Psalm 37 which repeats this theme over and over.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. A righteous person is one who strives to do the will of God through prayer and obeying the commandments and in relationship with others. Building on the previous beatitudes, the righteous person wants to strive for holiness in God’s eyes. Read Psalm 63:1-3. God thirsts for you so you might thirst for Him (St. Augustine).
Blessed are the merciful. Showing mercy to others is a natural result of growing in righteousness. It allows a person to show compassion and understanding to others in their shortcomings and faults and sufferings. It is also mindful of the Lord’s Prayer when we say “Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us.” That word AS is a powerful word, for we may be condemning ourselves with it, without mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart. Christ speaks often of the heart, and scripture makes reference to the heart as the source of one’s thoughts, words, and actions. The promise is that they will see God. With a purity of heart they have a much closer relationship with God and they will start to see God in the face of every person they meet as well.
Blessed are the peacemakers. As we grow in the beatitudes we become more peaceful and wish to encourage peace not only in ourselves but in everyone we encounter, trying to bring others to the peace that is found only in God. We know that no other peace on earth compares to the peace found with God. As we progress to this level as followers of Christ, we openly share our faith in Jesus to the world, in fact it’s very hard to hold it in. We are truly children of God. But going back to the second reading, the world may not know us because though we live in the world, we are not of the world. This sad situation leads to the next beatitude.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness. So blessed are they who suffer for being true to Jesus. Up until now we’ve been on a personal growth, now we are dealing with the world who sometimes hates Jesus. Sometimes we have to take a stand for our faith that is not popular in the secular world, and sometimes the world will persecute us for it. This last beatitude tell us to remember that our gain is the kingdom of heaven, here on earth and as a saint when we die.
Finally, the beatitudes close with a warning of how the world can persecute us for being a follower of Jesus and that we are to rejoice for our reward is great in heaven. Read Acts 6:40-42 of how the apostles reacted to this situation; they rejoiced in their punishment and refused to stop proclaiming Jesus even when imprisoned and flogged.
Moses gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments, of which 8 of 10 are “thou shall not” commands. These ten rules to live by are still a very good basis for an orderly society and are the moral foundation for Western civilization. It is no small symbolic act that they were written in stone, as they are written on the human heart as natural law.
There is a strong parallel between Jesus and Moses. Moses led the Israelites from slavery out of Egypt, Jesus led them from the slavery of sin. Moses received the Law from God on the mountain, Jesus proclaimed the new law on the mount. When they were both born, there was an edict to destroy male babies. They both were raised for a time in Egypt. They both instituted a Passover, a priesthood, a covenant, and 12 leaders. They were both meek (Numbers 12:3): “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the Earth.” And recall the words of Jesus (Matthew 11:29): “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.” But Jesus is not a new Moses, Moses is only a type for Jesus. Moses prophesied Jesus would come (Deut. 18:15) “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kinsmen; to Him shall you listen.”
The beatitudes were a totally different way of teaching what God wants from us. They are the foundation of the Christian faith. Jesus lays down the new rules for sainthood, which will not be through gaining treasures in this life but in storing up treasures in heaven. Though He says the road may be difficult, He offers many promises for following His way: the kingdom of heaven, being comforted, inheriting the earth, obtaining mercy, seeing God, being called children of God.
The beatitudes offer us a way to happiness that is not of this world, but an inner happiness of God, which the world does not know. There is also a certain element of delayed satisfaction, you know you have to have faith that following these beatitudes will lead to the promise. That is called hope. Jesus said you have to have the faith of a child to enter into the kingdom of God, the faith and hopefulness of a child. We Christians live by hope, hope of heaven.
Note that at the conclusion of His sermon on the mount at the end of chapter 7, Jesus said “Everyone who listens to these WORDS OF MINE...” His words were His, not quoted from someone else. He is not the new Moses or a prophet, He is God, the one who had given all the words to Moses and the prophets. When He had finished, “the crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”
Theme in our Life Today
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus is raising the bar on what it means to be in the kingdom of God. He is going to magnify all the teaching of the Old Testament. He will state a law of scripture, then dial it up. He will say “You have heard it said...” and state a scripture, reciting what the law says, then say, “But I say to you...” and raise the stakes, make it more personal, what God intents for us. In Matthew 5:17 He will clarify himself: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”
Unlike the people of the Old Testament who were only waiting, waiting, waiting for the kingdom of God, upon the arrival of Jesus we are living in the Kingdom of God, thought it will not be completed until His second coming. It has already arrived but not come in all its fullness. We live in enemy-occupied territory until the defeat of the evil one. But we have the benefit of living in the light of Christ, we have the Eucharist, we have the Gospels, and we have the forgiveness of our sins. And through Christ’s resurrection we have the guarantee of heaven. We can find comfort in knowing that we are children of God and so loved by Him. This world doesn’t know us because it doesn’t know Christ.
These Beatitudes might seem almost impossible in living in our world. They are hard, and some might find them too hard and give up. In John chapter 6, when Jesus was teaching about the Eucharist, some people said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (John 6:60) and they left and no longer followed Jesus. Some people still cannot accept it today. But even now, upon hearing the message of the Beatitudes, some might say “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” and they no longer follow Jesus. Don’t be like those people.
Prepare for Sunday
To Prepare for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word, consider the following:
1. Am I living the beatitudes? Are there certain ones that I seem to be missing?
2. Do I live in the world, but not of the world?
Let us pray what is known as the Prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Ok, I heard you singing it...