Saint Vincent Archabbey
4 Ordinary Time
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Classic
Matthew 5: 1-12a
The eight Beatitudes of Matthew's gospel open his lengthy Sermon on the Mount. They are especially noteworthy because they strike the keynote for all that follows in that Sermon. Moreover, the first Beatitude strikes the keynote also for the seven Beatitudes that follow.
The decisive word in this first Beatitude is the word, "poor.” Its meaning is derived from a Hebrew word meaning "an afflicted one.” It was first applied, therefore, to those Jews of the immediate pre-Christian era who were economically and politically powerless but who continued to hope in God even though he 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.
Jesus makes the daring statement that these downtrodden ones should in fact be declared blessed, i.e. fortunate. What could possibly justify such a radical and apparently nonsensical conclusion? Jesus certainly does not intend to bless powerlessness as such. However, he does affirm the blessedness of those who, because they are powerless, are saved from the illusion that worldly power can in fact give them (and us) us the only truly important and lasting gifts, such as, love, happiness and life itself. Being delivered from that disastrous illusion, they are called blessed or fortunate because they are then free to turn to God, who is ready and willing to give them the Kingdom.
Matthew specifies this as poverty "in spirit” because it is essentially an attitude of humility and trust in the presence of God.
The ideal presented here must not be mistaken for an unhappy passivity or timidity in the presence of the challenges of this life. Rather, it liberates us from self-centered and self-serving efforts, which will ultimately prove unproductive, so that we may be present to others in a loving, caring and helpful way.
This is summed up neatly in the seemingly paradoxical but very true statement, "The only gift we can keep is the one we give away!” Or, in gospel language, "What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life” (Mark 8:36)?
The remaining seven Beatitudes are really echoes of this primary one. Those who "mourn” are those who dare to become vulnerable through loving…and thereby find the secret of happiness. The "meek” renounce power and violence as a means of acquiring happiness…and thus are candidates for true happiness.
Those who "hunger for justice” have a passion for the reforms that will enable everyone to live and dream. Those who are "merciful” renounce anger and vengeance as they offer forgiveness. The "clean of heart” are the sincere and truthful ones who reject all that is mere sham and pretense in life.
The "peacemakers” promote forgiveness and reconciliation as the only sure way to peace. And those who are "persecuted” are those who persevere in the pursuit of these ideals in spite of ridicule from others who seem to be the wise and prudent ones. Thus, the Beatitudes represent a program for true holiness and happiness through the wisdom of the gospel rather than through the misguided wisdom of purely secular philosophy.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.Fourth Sunday of the Year, Modern
Lectionary 70 Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12A
The virtues of humility and gentleness are clearly the keynotes of this Sunday’s scripture readings. The prophet Zephaniah begins by exhorting us, "Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth…seek justice, seek humility” (Zeph 2:3); the Psalmist then praises the Lord for upholding many who are trodden under by the secular world—the orphans, widows, the poor, the blind, the wounded, and the oppressed. For his part even St. Paul, who long struggled with pride, reminds the Corinthians: "Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:26-27). Of course these readings lead up to and support the sublime words of Jesus in the beatitudes, found in the "Sermon on the Mount”. There, among other moving words of wisdom, he teaches: "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land” (Matt 5:5).
The term rendered here in English as "meek” can also rightly be understood as "gentle” and it is translated as such elsewhere in the Bible. It occurs as an adjective, "gentle,” four times in the New Testament and twelve more times it is used in its noun form, "gentleness”. Taking all sixteen occurrences of this word family together we find that in most cases the words "gentle” or "gentleness” are used to describe the way every Christian ought to live—the term is used in this way in the beatitudes. The few cases in which a specific person is described by means of these terms should catch our attention and give us cause to reflect on our own attempt to be "gentle”. The reason I say this is that the only particular "persons” so described as meeting the standard of being truly "meek” or "gentle” are the Lord Jesus (Matt 11:29; 21:5) and the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:23)—impressive company indeed!
What this should tell us is that gentleness is a characteristic not of cringing or weak people, but of those who are fundamentally strong.
Further, they are strong in such a way that they are at peace in their own identity and person: they have self-confidence and self-acceptance such that they desire no praise from others, nor do they fear the negative opinion of others. For this very reason people who are gentle are able to see and sympathize with the plight of those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and who are persecuted or insulted for the sake of righteousness.
Going beyond this, those who are gentle, having been graced by God with a balanced measure of inner peace, are aware that they need to reach deeper and give of themselves in order to alleviate those things that cause people to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and to be persecuted or insulted for the sake of righteousness, and thus to live as those who are peacemakers, merciful, and clean of heart. They are moved to do this because as Christians they (we all) have a duty to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and it precisely this Kingdom that Jesus describes in the beatitudes. It turns all earthly kingdoms on their head because it shows the true order of reality, redeemed from the effects of sin and the perennial struggle for power and prestige.
Our Lord promises the Kingdom of Heaven to the humble of the earth; as the possibilities of a new year stand before us, let it be our resolve to live humbly and gently, at peace in the knowledge that in doing so we imitate Christ himself, and that our "reward will be great in heaven” (Matt 5:12).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.