Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13; Psalm 146:6-10; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12a

First Reading: Today’s first reading has two sections coming from separate chapters of Zephaniah. The first verses are strong exhortations to the people to do three things: seek the Lord, seek justice and seek humility. The second section is the voice of the Lord that addresses the people promising that a remnant of Israel will know salvation.

Psalm 146: Psalm 146 is an example of exuberant proclamation in praise of the Lord. In the twelve lines of the psalm he lists ten actions performed by the Lord on behalf of the people. Each of these actions will be marks of Jesus’ ministry generations later.

Second Reading: Those whom the psalmist identifies as recipients of the Lord’s care share a similar identity with those that Paul address in Corinth (today’s second reading). Paul reminds these early believers that on their own they have very little status or power or influence. Yet they are precisely the ones that God has chosen to spread the Gospel.

Gospel: The eight Beatitudes are perhaps one of the best known teachings of Jesus. The beatitude is a genre of teaching from wisdom literature. A blessing is bestowed on a person or persons because of their status, that is, the poor, the meek, and that blessing is followed by a subsequent action that benefits them.

Reflection: The Sermon on the Mount, which we will hear from over the next five weeks, begins with some of Jesus’ best known words: the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes seem to describe behaviors and attitudes that we generally ascribe to those we call “saints.” Yet all of us can name good people we know – truly good people. We can name the qualities and actions that lead us to judge them truly good. These (and we ourselves) are truly good – the blessed. We find this collection of teachings only in the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke and, especially in this section there are some significant differences between them.

In Matthew’s account, seeing the crowds, Jesus goes up a mountain and as his disciples surround him, indicating that this teaching is addressed intensively to them, but also to any who will listen and take it to heart. With that, he begins one of the most challenging and counterintuitive series of phrases we might ever hope to hear. Each of Jesus’ nine pronouncements begins with the word blessed, which means filled with deep joy. Jesus’ disciples are challenged to understand how a person could reach such profound happiness through the apparently negative conditions Jesus describes.

It is awesome to think that our own halting efforts at being really good – at extending mercy, justice, and righteousness to others as God has extended them to us – are one means for bringing God’s blessedness to others! Simply sharing in God’s work of salvation – providing for those in need – is a blessing in itself that brings unequaled happiness. Our deepest happiness comes not from fulfilling our own wants and desires (except for hearts desiring God) but from reaching out to others as God reaches out to us in blessing. Happiness that comes from our own desires and efforts is fleeting; the blessings of God that are showered upon us as we live humbly, justly, and faithfully last forever. Here’s the truly amazing part: the happiness we share now is but a taste of our great reward in heaven!

Question for Reflection: How do I extend mercy, justice, and righteousness in my discipleship?

Copyright © 2017, Scott W. Eakins. All Rights Reserved.

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