January 29, 2023: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12A
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
Journalists begin writing news stories by asking themselves the “5 W’s and the H questions.” Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Organizing this reflection around these questions may help me set aside my discomfort with the Beatitudes.
For me, the Beatitudes imply being very miserable will get us into heaven. No relief in the present moment. Even being good waits for a future reward. Nothing happens now; nothing changes now. Delayed gratification is the name of the game.
In my heart, I know this isn’t true; but years of hearing this Gospel have gotten me into a rut. So, let’s move onto the “5 W’s and the H.”
Who was involved? Jesus, the crowd, the disciples and now we experience this moment.
What happened? Jesus seizes upon a teachable moment. Once again, he emphasizes the improbability that the least among us will change the world. Who will be the most powerful in bringing about the kingdom of God? It will be those poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry, thirsty, merciful, clean of heart and the persecuted.
Where did it happen? On a mountain side in Galilee, a territory very familiar to Jesus. In familiar territory, we often feel safe enough to hear and believe improbable things occur.
When did this happen? Historically, Jesus speaks these words after he’s experienced life-threatening incidents provoked by those wielding political and religious power. Recall the machinations of Herod, the flight into Egypt, the slaughter of the Innocents, the arrest of John the Baptist.
Still, Jesus promises that no matter what evil or good we experience because we follow him, we will be glad and rejoice in the kindom of God, the kindom of right relationship. When we build this kindom, when we forge just and loving relationships we are among the blessed. A leap of faith is required here – at least for me.
Why/How did this happen? To me, the “why” question and the “how” question have the same response: “For God so loved the world that God sent the only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal live (John 3:16).”
Jesus knew himself, trusted himself, accepted himself as the Son of God and so dared to live the mission given to him. Jesus also knew that we, his disciples, are asked to believe and do the improbable. Paul in today’s second reading, tells us, “God chose those who count for nothing to reduce to nothing those who are something (1 Cor. 1:27).”
I chose one Beatitude which I habitually overlook and don’t pay attention to: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.” I asked the “5 W’s and H” questions to explore its meaning. It wasn’t a rip-roaring success but it did get me a tad more comfortable with at least one beatitude. You may find it a helpful exercise.
P.S. – I used several sources to explore the meaning of the Beatitudes. My favorite fact discovered: “The Sermon on the Mount is the longest speech Jesus ever made.”
Thank you for using your own process of unpacking as the framework for your reflection. I find your candor about what trips you up in scripture refreshing and helpful.
As you moved in and around so beautifully, I was stuck at the early part of the reading wondering “why the heck couldn’t the disciples just leave Jesus alone to pray, rest and recharge”? And as always, that says more about ME than about Jesus!
Thanks for using your gifts. They are many.
I loved your process and what it offered to you and to me.