4th Ordinary Sunday (Year A)
First Reading: Zephaniah2:3, 3:12-13 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:1-12a
“HAPPY ARE THOSE WHO TRUST IN THE LORD!”
Once a philosopher was walking along a sea-shore reflecting, and trying to find out an answer to the question - “How to achieve happiness?” Then suddenly, he noticed just little distance ahead, a poor fisherman lying on a mat and resting under a tree, outside his hut. “You shouldn’t be wasting your time like that.” he told the poor fisherman. “What should I do then?” asked the fisherman. “You should get into your boat instead, and be out in the sea, fishing; That way you will get more fish and selling them and you will have more money,” he told him. “What should I do then?” again asked the fisherman. He told him, “If you keep doing so, one day you will have enough money to buy a bigger boat and you will be able to go into the deeper and farther part of the sea and catch bigger fishes, and selling them you will make still more money.” “What should I do after then?” asked again the fisherman. He answered him, “Then you should buy more boats, hire men to help you and make fishing a big business. This will make you plenty of money.” “What should I do then?” asked the fisherman again. The philosopher then said, “Now that you have plenty of money, you should go and buy a big mansion, marry a beautiful woman, have children and enjoy your life.” “What should I do then?” the fisherman further inquired. Immediately, the philosopher said, “Oh! Then you go, lie down, relax, and be happy.” At this the fisherman smiled and said to the philosopher, “ And what do you think that I am doing now!”
Everyone wants to be happy. God too wants all human beings to be happy. So, the question is not in happiness, but rather - how to achieve happiness.
Today is the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time. All the Scripture Readings of today speak about how to achieve true and lasting happiness which comes from God, and which is different from the way world sees it. In the First Reading, the Prophet Zephaniah says that those who seek God with lowliness and humility, on the day of judgment they will escape the wrath of the Lord. If they serve God and obey His commands, they will find the peace and happiness they desire. Today's Gospel Reading is Matthew's version of 'the Beatitudes.' In them Jesus gives his prescription for true and lasting happiness. In the Second Reading, St. Paul implores the Corinthians to consider their calling and shows them the true contrast between the values of Jesus and the values of the world. He reminds them that they owe everything good in their lives to God; therefore, if any one boasts, should boast in the Lord.
SEEK THE LORD WITH HUMILITY AND LOWLINESS:
In Today’s First Reading from the Book of Zephaniah, the Prophet says that if the humble seek to obey the commands of the Lord, seeking righteousness and humility, then on the Day of Judgment, they will be spared from the wrath of the Lord. He then speaks about God leaving a remnant of Israel, a people humble and lowly, who take refuge in the name of the Lord and who observe his law - neither doing wrong nor speaking lies. They are the happy people, whom God greatly loves. In the final verses the prophet presents with the image of the sheep grazing peacefully in a pasture. It is in faith in God and in serving Him in humility that true happiness and peace is found.
In today's Gospel Reading we have St. Matthew's version of 'The Beatitudes,' which open Jesus' 'Sermon on the Mount.' St. Matthew thought of it as a sort of 'New Law,' a new disclosure of God's overall will for human beings, comparable to what happened at Sinai in the Old Testament, and with Jesus cast in the role of a new Moses. He gives five long discourses by Jesus, which can be seen to match the Pentateuch, the five first books of the Bible, traditionally attributed to Moses as their author and which embody the Jewish Law. Just as the Pentateuch embodies the Jewish way of life, so these discourses embody Jesus' vision of the life he proposes for his disciples.
'The Beatitudes' is in fact the first of the five discourses of Jesus' to his disciples and forms a preface of the Sermon on Mount. It is not a verbatim record of an actual sermon or address. Rather, it is a collection of sayings and teachings focusing on the personal qualities expected of a disciple of Jesus. It is given on a mountain, just as God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai . Mountains are traditionally seen as holy places where God is specially present and there are several instances in both the Hebrew and Christian Testaments where mountains feature in a significant way.
The Beatitudes have been called “the Compendium of Christ’s Doctrine;' 'the Magna Carta of the Kingdom,' 'the Manifesto of the King.' They actually form the essence of the teaching of Jesus and are necessary to be his follower. Most likely, the Beatitudes must have been more than one sermon, as they are far too much for one hearing. They are difficult to digest in one go, as each beatitude will actually take a full sermon to explain it. It is Matthew’s artistic creation, who put them as representative summary, giving them a beautiful systematic pattern.
The Gospel says that particularly blessed are: Those who are poor in spirit; those who mourn; those who are meek; those who hunger and thirst for what is right; those who are merciful; those who are clean of heart; those who are peace-makers; and those who are persecuted in the cause of right. This is the vision Jesus wanted to proclaim to his disciples as he began his public ministry. It is, as if he places on them the code of conduct as they begin their lives as his own disciples. If they have the courage to follow him they will remain blessed both now and in the age to come. Again, one may be tempted to say there are eight different persons corresponding to each of the beatitudes; but it is not so. Actually, there is only one way of the Beatitudes and all these qualities would be found in one and the same person in varying degrees. They all are important to be a believer in God and a follower of Christ.
The Beatitudes must be understood in the context of the Kingdom. The beatitudes are the prophetic pronouncements of Jesus aimed at those who are presently in dire circumstances but who will be vindicated at the final coming of God’s Kingdom. Therefore, believers are not to expect instant gratification as the immediate result of faith. They are to be committed followers of Jesus who can fully grasp the present circumstance with an eschatological conviction of the future fulfillment of the Kingdom. The Beatitudes give the hope that the kingdom of God will come and is already in the hearts of people.
Just as the Ten Commandments are the core of the Jewish way of life and a law to follow, so the Beatitudes are the core of the Christian way of life. However, there are major differences between the Commandments and the Beatitudes. Strictly speaking, the Beatitudes are not commandments. The Beatitudes are expressed in positive terms. They also express not just actions but attitudes. In a way, they can never be fully observed. No matter how well I try to observe them, I can always go further. They leave no room for smugness, the kind of smugness the Pharisees had in keeping the Law. Moreover, the Beatitudes have a quality and depth which goes far beyond the mere moral requirements of the Ten Commandments. They call for a very special relationship with God and with the people around us. So, the Beatitudes show us the way to sanctity too. They are not so much things to be done or rules to be kept as deep-down attitudes of mind. And, in fact, their observance is only possible with a deep love of God and of other people. They involve not merely a personal observance of some ethical rules but a deep concern to be involved in the building up of the world we live in, helping to make it a place of truth, love, compassion, justice, freedom and peace. This is what the Kingdom is all about. It is a completely different ball game.
The Beatitudes predict that if we are to discover deep happiness at all it has to be via a list of fairly obviously unpleasant life-situations: in poverty, tears, hunger, and even being hunted down by agents of the State. It sounds rather implausible, doesn't it? Right at the beginning of his teaching, Jesus throws down a challenge to conventional thinking. With the Beatitudes, he turns the world upside-down. Each Beatitude begins with the word 'Blessed.' It is a translation of the Greek word 'makarios' and the Latin word 'felix.' The meaning of these words is a combination of happiness and good fortune. So we could translate either with 'Happy are those...' or 'Fortunate are those...' Yet, who are those whom Jesus calls thus? The poor, the mourners, the meek or lowly, those deprived of justice, those persecuted and abused. In the eyes of the world, such people can hardly be described as happy or blessed. In fact, they are the world's embarrassment. It is not the rich, nor the strong, nor the powerful, nor the well-fed, nor the good-life chasers, but those who place their total trust in God are the truly happy or blessed ones. The Beatitudes tell us then that we are not losers but winners because God is on our side. We are blessed even as we suffer because we believe that we will be vindicated, partly here and now, and fully when Christ resolves all things in the end-time. This compensates for any misfortune that may befall us - persecution, contempt, sorrow, poverty or injustice - in living the values of the Kingdom of truth, justice, love and peace.
“WHOEVER BOASTS, SHOULD BOAST IN THE LORD.” :
In today’s Second Reading from his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul asks the Corinthians to consider their calling. Obviously, some Corinthians thought that they were elite and superior to others. So, he puts them in their place by emphasizing that most who came to believe in Christ were the nobodies. He tells them that God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. He chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. He chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in His presence. By this Divine choice, God destroys the pride of those who consider themselves as something special. Paul is clear that we don't have anything at all to boast about, at least not before God. God's love, his goodness, is without limits and is worthy of all praise. He is worth every boast. He gave His only Son our Lord Jesus Christ to us and he has become our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification and our redemption. By his own free gift God has become ours. So, St. Paul says, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”
The message of today´s Scripture Readings, particularly the Beatitudes, is that God's ways are different than the world's ways. The world has its own understanding about and criteria for achieving happiness; but unfortunately none of them are true and lasting. But the true winners are those who submit to God's rule in their lives, and those people are not necessarily the ones racking up the most points on society's scorecards. But to understand this, everything comes down to a question of faith. Do we believe in eternal life? Do we believe in an eternal reward in heaven? The supreme happiness that Christ promises is true and lasting. He will give a joy that no one can take away to the ones who, like him, are willing to embrace the values of the Kingdom: purity, love, justice, peace…
Let us then today pray that as a believer in God and a follower of Christ, we may proclaim the beatitudes with clarity and live them with fidelity, so that we truly become the children of God and inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. “Happy is the man who trusts in the Lord!” And this is the Good news of today.