The 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12a
The day finally arrived. After 21 years in school, I made it; the first day of the last class I’d ever have to take. I was excited, but also nervous. I heard this teacher was tough; my friends advised me to wait another year, hoping he’d retire, but I wanted it over with. What was one more tough teacher?
It took just one class period to rethink that. The first thing this guy did on the first day was hand out the final exam, a series of questions due back in three months. Looking at them made me even more nervous. They didn’t look hard… they looked impossible.
As always happens, some people dropped. We who decided to stick it out divided up the questions and worked on them. Although I made progress, it became clear that if I was going to give decent answers, I had to go to class and really engage with this teacher.
That’s where my world lit up. From our first conversation, I could see that psychology wasn’t just a subject to this man; it was his life, his passion, and he wanted us to share it, to love it like he did. In the end, the real importance of giving us those questions was to draw us into conversations with him, to give the benefit of his experience and insight to us, the next generation of psychologists and teachers, so we could better understand and in turn pass on the most important issues in that field to our own future students.
That is an example of the same purpose our Lord Jesus Christ had when he began his class, the Sermon on the Mount, with his own idea of a final: The beatitudes. Who could blame anyone for finding those hard to understand? We’re blessed to have nothing, to say nothing, and to mourn loved ones? Rejoice when we’re being persecuted? Those don’t seem hard, they seem impossible.
Of course, they aren’t, but they do require effort. The worst thing we can do is look at them and rule them out as impossible. That’s what St. Paul meant when he mentioned being wise by human standards. No; real wisdom begins with the attitude spoken of by the prophet Zephaniah, the honesty and humility to say, “I don’t understand these,” and the perseverance to say, “But with help, I will.”
It is virtues like these that set people apart, make them holy. In the first reading we heard about a remnant, a smaller group that emerges from a larger one; people distinguished by their humility and thirst for justice, and rewarded with peace. And we see a shade of it in the gospel, where Matthew begins: When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and… his disciples came to him. So, a large group sees Jesus, a smaller group follows him. The difference? The remnant makes an effort to do it. Each of us has to ask, which am I: Crowd or disciple? Am I satisfied simply hearing about him, or am I committed to following him? We only know that by looking inside ourselves. When and where do I already come to him? Are there circumstances where I will not come to him?
And what does that mean, to come to him? If I ask God questions, will he answer them? Yes! It is said that when we pray, we talk to God; when we read Scripture, God talks to us. The answers may not be clear, we might have to make an effort to understand, but we have centuries’ worth of resources: Notes on every page of the bible, books by such brilliant thinkers as Benedict XVI. In our own parish, we have priests and deacons who have been trained to help you understand where and how God is moving and speaking in your life.
This is where your world can light up, too. Studying the beatitudes this way leads us to contemplation, where we learn these aren’t just some nice, pious thoughts to live by; they are a portrait of Christ. Poverty of spirit; who is more humble than he who emptied himself and took the form of a slave? Who has mourned more than he, who wept over Jerusalem? Who is meeker or gentler than the Lamb of God, led to slaughter without a word? Who seeks righteousness more than he who looked upon mankind from the cross and said, “I thirst”? Who was ever more merciful than he who said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” or more pure of heart than he whose heart was pierced for love of us? These are the kind of meditations that bring us closer to the heart of Jesus, and lead us to see that even on that mount of the beatitudes, our Lord had another mountain in mind; the one he had come to climb for the salvation of the world.
This is just one example. All of Scripture is open to you; God is there, waiting for you to come to him as the disciples did on that mountain, to be drawn into conversation, gain the insight he has in store, so that you can better understand and in turn pass on all that you have learned, so that others may come to know and love him as you do.
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