January 29, 2017
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
ZEP 2:3; 3:12-13 PS 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10 1 COR 1:26-31 MT 5:1-12A
Today’s Gospel contains what might be the most well-known and oft-repeated words Jesus ever spoke – the Beatitudes. This series of “Blessed art the…” statements marks the beginning of His Sermon on the Mount, in which He teaches the apostles and the crowd how a Christian ought to act and live, and what will be required of them.
It’s easy to look at the Beatitudes and apply them to the current political and societal climate – I wouldn’t be surprised if many priests and deacons mentioned the current US immigration situation in their homilies today, somehow tying it into Christ’s words, saying how it was an affront to all that Christ taught. After all, blessed are the peacemakers, and pursuers of justice and righteousness, and the merciful, and all that.
Those things are true. But I don’t think that was Jesus’ point. I don’t believe he was referring to political crises or governmental policies or ideological beliefs – after all, He was teaching His apostles and the crowds, not the Roman prefect, or Jewish Sanhedrin, or Herod’s court. Yes, Jesus’ words apply to them too – the truth is universal. But Jesus came to cause a revolution of the heart, not a revolution in the streets. He came to save sinners and free the imprisoned, not demonstrate in favor of those whose immigration status was being threatened or denied. His sacrifice on the cross opened the gates of Heaven, not the borders for any particular nation at any particular moment in time.
The final verse in the Beatitudes reads: “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” If you’re going to fight against injustice on behalf of others – and that is a very noble thing to do – because you recognize Christ in the other, then it has to be done with joy. If you’re going to make peace in the world – and that is a very Christian thing to do – then it has to be made in joyfulness. If you’re going to show mercy to others – and that is an act of love – then it must be done with joy.
Christ’s concluding words aren’t a consolation prize or attitude adjustment – they’re a command. “Rejoice and be glad!” When you’re fighting for justice, being merciful, being persecuted for His sake – He doesn’t say be fearful, or feel sorry for yourself, or condemn your enemies. He says to rejoice!
Frankly, I see very few people being joyful. I don’t see the peace that surpasses all understanding. What I see – and I see this in myself, too, at times – is the opposite of what Christ tells us. There is anger, fear, resentment, and hysteria. It’s as if we’ve never taken the Beatitudes seriously in the first place.