January 29, 2017
FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Zeph 2:3; 3:12-13
The remnant shall remain
The Lord keeps faith
1 Cor 1:26-31
God chose the lowly
In Matthew’s Gospel the first words Jesus speaks at length are those we call the beatitudes. Like a manifesto for compassion, this list of blessings sets the mark for his entire work—his ministry and his death, and his resurrection. It is an immediate word of assurance to the ordinary citizens around him, who are leading their lives without being rich or celebrities or influence-brokers in the halls of power.
Although I usually devote this space to a study of the readings of the day, for this week I am going to share another kind of interpretation. The following is a variation on the words of Matthew’s Sermon, adapted to another sermon. This other sermon is one that I first gave for my youngest brother’s funeral and which I have also read for some close friends at theirs. Think of it as a rereading of the beatitudes for today.
A Benediction Based on the Beatitudes of Matthew:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, who in their own ways have quietly kept faithful, who with the resources given them, work among friends and neighbors to help build a more livable world, who live for truth rather than for advantage. The kingdom of heaven is theirs, not the princes and hangers-on in the courts of the capital cities.
“Blessed are they who mourn, for they know the price of loving. They have cared for others beside themselves, nurturing the needful and not simply their resumé. They have known loss, and they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, the gentle among us, those who lack leverage but are rich in life’s promise, rich in vision, who cannot coerce events in their direction, who live their lives in hope. They are the ones who will inherit the land, apart from those who make it their project.
“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, who view the injustices around them and reject them, who do not find it sufficient to direct their complaints to the TV screen but must make moves to bring about change, who recognize, often enough, their own complicity, but who nonetheless believe in equal treatment and a just God and look for a day when justice will prevail. They will find satisfaction.
“Blessed are the merciful, the kindly who act with compassion, who do not insist on attending only to the deserving, or only to the innocent, but rather, anyone who happens to be hurting, understanding that the only credential for deserving compassion is need, and so it is that their own needs will be known. They will be shown mercy.
“Blessed are the clean of heart, who maintain a vision of what we are about, what we are made for, who long for the day that vision will be fulfilled, who keep that vision like a burning lamp, despite the angers and cruelties of the world. For they will see God and are seeing God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, who bring the jagged ends together to rebind the knot, who learn the lessons of remorse and division and commit themselves to repairing the damage they see strewn around them. The peacemakers who do the work of God against the promoters of division and conflict. They, doing God’s work, will be called God’s children.”
The words can easily go on beyond these, and so does the work. But the common message is simply that God loves. God loves, and we can count on that love, and we are expected to count on it.
God loves more and farther than we can. We cannot comprehend our own love at times. But the love of God reaches far beyond ours.
For reflection: Why do we have so much trouble believing in God’s love for us?
Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.