From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

The Beatitudes

Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 Matthew: 5:1-12a

We in Pittsburgh are swept up in anticipation of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowl XLV. You see black and gold everywhere, rallies touting the invincibility of our much loved Steelers. They are the team no one can beat. We’re proud of them. And a great deal of Pittsburghers’ energies are devoted to looking forward to what we are sure will be their seventh Super Bowl win in Dallas next week.

But on the world stage, we hear of rallies by the poor and powerless in Tunisia, where they overthrew their dictator of 23 years to take control of their own destiny.  And in Egypt where the people rally to overthrown another dictator of 30 years, and how it’s outcome is not yet discernable.

Those who have no power and influence, crying out for freedom and a say in their own governance. We remember the peaceful rally in the Philippines in 1985, in which the people took to the streets and overthrew a cruel and corrupt dictator and became a free and self-governing nation.

We also remember Tiananmin Square and the peaceful rallies in China in 1989, so sadly unsuccessful in their own attempt at freedom.

Our readings today all speak of those same poor and lowly in the world, and how those who are faithful to the Lord have more power than the world can imagine. Our first reading speaks of a ‘remnant’, who will remain in the midst of God’s defeated people, and who shall be unmoved by those who overwhelm the poor in greed and corruption. St Paul tells us directly in our second reading: “Not many of us are wise by human standards, not many are powerful. But God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might blow their own  trumpet before God. And it is through Him that you are in Christ Jesus who became for us Wisdom from God.”

The eight Beatitudes open chapters five though eight of Matthew’s gospel and Jesus’ lengthy Sermon on the Mount. They are especially noteworthy because they strike the keynote for all that follows in that powerful presentation of God’s expectations of us His people.

The Beatitudes are the ten Commandments of the New Covenant, which opened the five chapters we call the Book of the Covenant in Exodus. It is no accident that Jesus delivered them on ‘the Mount’. They are the new Commandments of the New Covenant not from Mount Sinai any longer. The Beatitudes do not speak, as did the Commandments, of what we should ‘not’ do; they speak instead that we who accept and follow Jesus faithfully are ‘blessed’.

The decisive word in this first Beatitude is the word, ‘poor’. It means one who is afflicted by life, who’s ‘at the end of their rope’. It was talking about those who are economically and politically powerless but who continue to hope in God even though God seemed to have abandoned them. They were often poor in an economic sense but their more basic poverty was in terms of power and control over the most basic elements of life. How many today; victims of war and violence in Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq, throughout Africa, victims of floods and terrible winter weather everywhere, certainly those throughout the nation and the world who are casualties of the economic disasters of the past three, almost four years, are the ‘new poor’ that Matthew speaks of.

Jesus makes the daring statement that these downtrodden ones should in fact be declared blessed, or fortunate. What could possibly justify such a radical and nonsensical conclusion? Jesus certainly isn’t blessing powerlessness as such. No, He is affirming the blessedness of those who, because they are powerless, are saved from the illusion that worldly power alone can give us the truly important and lasting gifts, like love, happiness and life itself.

Being delivered from that disastrous illusion, they are blessed or fortunate because they are then free to turn to God, who is ready and willing to give them the Kingdom.  There are so many who feel powerless in their own situation. They can then turn to the true ‘power’ – God’s love – and be freed. Matthew specifies this as poverty “in spirit” because it is essentially an attitude of humility and trust in the presence of God.

Life Implications

This ‘attitude of humility’ presented here must not be mistaken for an unhappy passiveness or a kind of  timidity in the presence of the challenges of this life. On the contrary, when one talks of freedom and liberty, it liberates us from being self-centered and self-serving.  That can only be unproductive.  The only fulfilling freedom comes from being present to others in a loving, caring and helpful way. What is the old saying? “The only gift we can keep is the one we give away!” Or, in gospel language, “What does it profit someone, to gain the whole world and forfeit their immortal soul!

The first Beatitude strikes the keynote for all seven Beatitudes that follow. The remaining seven Beatitudes are really echoes of the first one, the poor.

Those who ‘mourn’ are those who feel they’ve lost what is most dear to them. They dared to become vulnerable through loving; and thereby they find the secret of happiness.

The ’meek’ are those who are content with just who they are –- no more, no less. They renounce power and violence as a means of acquiring happiness and thus they find the true gift of happiness.

Those who ‘hunger for justice’ — who have works up a good appetite for God, who have a passion for the reforms that will enable everyone to live and dream.

Those who are ‘merciful’, who care. At the moment of being ‘care-full’, you find yourself ‘cared for’ and you can let go of your anger and vengeance and can offer forgiveness.

The ‘clean of heart’ are those who are sincere and truthful and who reject all that is sham and pretense in life. It means you‘ve got your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

The ‘peacemakers’ promote forgiveness and reconciliation as the only sure way to peace. They can show people how to cooperate instead of fighting or competing.  That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

And those who are ‘persecuted’ are those whose commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Then you persevere in the pursuit of those ideals, in spite of ridicule from others who are considered the wise and prudent ones.

And so the Beatitudes represent a program for true holiness and happiness.  It tells us it can only be found through the wisdom of the gospel.  Only the fool  would seek it through the misguided wisdom of the world.

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