29 January 2017: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Zep 2:3; 3:12-13 Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10 1 Cor 1:26-31 Mt 5:1-12a

Blessed are you?

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. Beginning this week and for the next four weeks, the gospel follows Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. This week’s readings focus on the beatitudes.

In the first reading, the prophet Zephaniah calls the Judeans to conversion to avoid the coming judgement–“the day of the Lord.” He addresses the people as anawim (AHN-ah-vim)–a Hebrew word meaning “the poor”–who depend completely on God for their lives. The Lectionary editors pair Zephaniah’s message to the anawim with Jesus’ message to the poor in spirit to contrast the coming “day of the Lord” with the coming “kingdom of God.”

The second reading continues Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Last week, Paul admonished the Corinthians for their disunity and quarrels. This week, Paul addresses the root cause of their exclusivity: they think too highly of themselves. Paul reminds the Corinthians that, by human standards, other people would judge them as not too smart, powerful, or classy. God chooses (calls) slow, powerless, nobodies that everyone despises to shame the world’s wise, powerful, top-class people. Paul suggests they confine their boasting to “boasting in the Lord”–recognizing that all humans live only because of God’s grace and goodness.

Matthew’s gospel begins Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. Today Jesus teaches his disciples and the crowds his new law: the beatitudes.

  • What is a beatitude? Beatitudes are a common literary form in Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek, and other ancient writings. The Greek word μακάριος (mah-KAH-ree-ohs) means “blessed,” “happy,” or “fortunate,” and addresses someone who is to be praised or congratulated for being in a privileged position. In Jewish tradition, a beatitude commended someone who choose a particular path in life, or promised future consolation to someone currently experiencing affliction.
  • What do the beatitudes mean? Jesus addresses his beatitudes to his disciples. He calls disciples to serve and to model God’s kingdom in this world. Worldly kingdoms (social, business, political) are in conflict with one another and with God’s kingdom. Jesus tells his disciples to give up attachments to worldly kingdoms and to align themselves with God’s kingdom. They must take on actions and attitudes–being poor in spirit, mourning evil, practicing humility, hungering after justice, showing mercy, single-mindedly seeking God, making peace, enduring persecution–that Jesus himself lives.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how our lives reflect God’s kingdom. Like the Judeans, we need Zephaniah’s message of continuing conversion. Like the Corinthians, we need Paul’s reminder that God is in charge, not us. As disciples, we need to walk Jesus’ path to bring the kingdom. Can we let go of our addictions to earthly wisdom, power, and status? Can we put down some of the worldly things we think we need–pride, revenge, fear–to pick up some of Jesus’ own attitudes and actions?

—Terence Sherlock

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