4th Sunday in Ordinary Time January 29, 2023
The First Reading
The prophet Zephaniah was active during the reign of King Josiah during the 7th Century BC. It follows a period in Israel's history when the previous kings allowed the Nation to fall into idolatry and the worship of the false god, Baal. King Josiah was one of Israel's more faithful kings. He attempted to reform the Nation from its idolatry and restore proper worship to God. He also began to move away from foreign allegiances in an effort to return the Nation's faith and trust in the One True God of Israel.
This passage is comprised of three verses, the first of which is taken from chapter two of Zephaniah, and the final two from the third chapter. The first verse is a warning to the people of Israel that they must remain steadfast to their covenant with God. It warns of an impending Day of the Lord, where God's wrath for his people's lack of faithfulness would be wrought, but it is also a message of hope for those who are faithful to the covenant. Those who are humble before the Lord, who seek justice and humility will be sheltered by the Lord. The verses from chapter three detail the wrath that God poured out upon Judah for its lack of faithfulness, but these verses from Zephaniah are directed to the faithful remnant that heeded his call to reform. His words offer comfort and hope to those faithful to the covenant. A faithful remnant will survive the Day of the Lord.
What can we take from this reading? Perhaps a call and reminder from God that He is in fact Lord of All. Today, society is taking great liberty to craft God in their own image, forgetting that it is they who were crafted in His image. The difference is significant. By recreating God in our image, we craft a God who accepts the life we desire to live, rather than a God who challenges us to submit our will to His holy will, and live instead the life we were meant to live. The false truths of Pro-choice, gender identity, and the redefinition of marriage are examples of the fruits born of society's efforts to recreate God in its image. To embrace the revealed Truth that we are created in God's image and likeness, requires humility. It requires humility to admit that God is Lord of one's life. It requires humility to submit your will to the will of God, even though God's will might be challenging you to change your ways, your thoughts, or even your heart. Yes, God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to leave you that way. We are called to be holy as God is holy, but we cannot achieve holiness on our efforts alone. We need God's assistance, and accepting help from anyone, including God, is an act of humility. Don't let pride stand in the way of becoming the saint God called and created you to be.
The Second Reading
Our theme of humility continues in this pericope from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. We see Paul, who is dealing with divisions within the community at Corinth, reminding the community how pride stands in the way of our becoming righteous (i.e., holy). God chose the foolish, the weak, the lowly, the despised, and those who count for nothing, and poured upon them the wealth of Christ Jesus' sanctification and redemption. God revealed himself to such as these because their humility allowed God to become master of their hearts, minds, and lives. The proud, the noble, and powerful, and the "someone's" of the world served a different master, that resulted in them boasting of themselves, rather than boasting in the Lord.
When one is humble in heart and mind, they knowingly accept that they are nothing apart from God, which is the heart of Jesus' call to be poor in spirit in the Beatitudes. They know that can achieve nothing without God's help. They know that they must submit their will to God's will. They know that God is greater than they are, and that enables them to boast in the Lord because of what the Lord has done for them, through them, and sometimes, despite them.
We have a God who humbled himself to share in our humanity. We have Christ who humbled himself, taking on the form of a slave, being obedient unto death on a cross. If God is willing and ready to humble himself out of love for us, why do we resist humbling ourselves out of love for God? True love is always an act of humility because we place the "other" over and above ourselves as we serve them out of love for them. Is this the love you know? Is this the love you experience? Is this the love you live? God is love (1 Jn 4:8), and those who do not know God, do not know love. Ask God to give you the gift of humility so that you may become the saint he called and created you to be.
In John's gospel, during the Last Supper discourse, Jesus tells his disciples, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments, just as I have kept my Father's commandments." This statement reveals two things. Discipleship requires obedience, and Jesus' commandments are distinct from his Father's commandments. That is not to say that they are different or that they conflict. That would be impossible, as Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, and God cannot be divided within himself. But it does give us pause to at least ask the question, how does Jesus' commandments relate to those given by God.
The Beatitudes provide a beautiful contrast. In fact, Matthew's version of the story has strong parallels to Moses and the Sinai event where God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments. Here we have Jesus, the new Moses, going up the mountain and giving a new set of Commandments in the Beatitudes for his disciples (i.e., the Church). Through the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches us the importance of humility.
The Beatitudes may be well known, but they are often misunderstood. They are also not as well known as the ten commandments even though people have heard of them. How many Christians can name them the way they can the Ten Commandments? What we do know, or think we know, is often skewed by erroneous interpretation. Let's look at what the Beatitudes reveal about the Christian life and humility.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. This is often misinterpreted as physical poverty. What this beatitude addresses is our abject poverty before God. We are nothing apart from God. We have no life apart from God. We can achieve nothing apart from God. Living in this realization requires humility because we live a life in which we know our place before God and that God is greater than we are. When we humble ourselves before God realizing that we need to depend on him and trust in his ways, we are assured that the kingdom of heaven will be ours.
Blessed are the sorrowing. This too is often misinterpreted to mean those who are sorrowful. Yes, God will comfort us when we are sad, in times of loss, and in life's struggles, but Jesus is talking about those who are experiencing sorrow over their sins and the sins of the world. Sin separates us from God who is the source of all life, all goodness, all holiness. Separation from God equals death. When we sin, we pit our will against God's, and choose what we want over and above what God's desires. That's not humility. It takes humility to admit that we have sinned. It takes humility to realize that we have wounded our relationship with God and perhaps placed our souls in peril. When we experience sorrow over separating ourselves from God, God will console us.
Blessed are the meek. Again, we often hear this beatitude explained in terms of those who are timid and submissive. Meekness is not viewed as a favorable trait in today's world. In a dog eat dog world, meekness is seen as weakness. Jesus was meek, but no one would ever say he was weak. The Greek word for meek is the word praeous. It was a word that was used to describe domesticated animals. What's the difference between a domesticated animal a wild animal? The former is under the willful control of a master. The latter operates soley on instinct and has no master. This beatitude states that we must place ourselves under the willful control of our master – God, by submitting our will to his holy will. When we give God the reigns, God will in turn give us everything we need to accomplish his will. We will in fact inherit the earth and everything at God's disposal. It takes true humility for one to willingly submit his or her will to another.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. God will certainly take care of those who experience physical hunger and thirst in this world, but this Beatitude talks about hunger and thirst for righteousness. What is righteousness? The Greek word in its broadest sense means to become as one ought to be. How ought we to be? We ought to be just like God for we are created in his image and likeness. We ought to be holy as God is holy. Therefore, what Jesus is stating is that we must hunger and thirst for the things that are of God. We must hunger for holiness. When we hunger for that, we will be satisfied, for as Christ Jesus says in John's Gospel, chapter six, he is true food and true drink. Only an infinite God who is love can satiate our infinite capacity for love. It takes humility for us realize that only God could ever satiate our needs, our happiness, and our longing to be loved.
Blessed are the merciful. All of us are called upon to be merciful as God is merciful. In fact, in some of Jesus' most famous parables, he addressed the importance of forgiveness and mercy. Take for example the parable of the Merciful Lord and the Unforgiving Servant. Jesus makes it clear in that parable that failing to be merciful will result in our eternal damnation. It takes humility to push past our hurt, our pride, and our woundedness in order to extend the gift of mercy to someone who does not deserve it, which is what makes it a gift. No one who is granted mercy ever deserves it. That is what makes it mercy! We certainly do not deserve God's mercy, but he gifts us with it just the same, all we need to do is ask for it with contrite hearts. When we are merciful, we will experience the mercy of God.
Blessed are the pure of heart. Who are the pure of heart? They are those who are motivated by their love for God. They do not do what they do so as to boast in themselves, but rather to boast in the Lord. When we are driven and motivated by our love for God we will slowly come to see God everywhere. Every opportunity is seen as an opportunity for us to love and serve God. Every person we see is a reflection of the Heavenly Creator. It takes humility to set aside our pride and our desire to preen and strut our feathers. It takes humility to recognize when what we do is motivated by self-interest rather than self-giving.
Blessed are the peacemakers. To see ourselves as God sees us, as his beloved, as his chosen, as being created in his image and likeness, as being masterpieces of his creation, and living temples of the spirit, is a game changer for how we view others in the world. Embracing such concepts impels us to live in peace because we are all equal before the eyes of God. Every saint was a sinner and every sinner is called to be a saint. Our true dignity comes from being a child of God, not from our race, creed, or sex. When we live as peacemakers, we are children of God because we recognize each other as brothers and sisters. It takes humility to aspire to such a world view and so set aside prejudices, bigotry, biases, hatred, intolerance, and indifference.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Here the word righteousness appears again in the beatitudes. Here Jesus instructs us that the reward for those who are persecuted for the things of God, for trying to be holy and live according to God's will, is heaven. We do not live in fear of physical persecution for our faith in the United States as they do in other countries around the world, but that does not mean that Christians in the United States are not persecuted. The persecution that occurs in our country is far more systemic and subversive than the outward killing of Christians for their belief in Christ Jesus. Today, when one tries to live a holy life or a life of faith, they are often ridiculed or portrayed as out of touch with reality. The young 20 something trying to live a chaste life on college campus comes under a lot of pressure and ridicule for his or her efforts. Those who stand up for life in all its forms, from the unborn to the elderly and infirmed are labeled radicals or dismissed as not being with the times. The same is true for those working to save the environment from ourselves. Those standing up for God's definition of marriage are labeled as homophobic, bigots, and haters. Such subversive persecution is exhausting on the spirit, and many a devout Christian as succumbed to weariness and given up. How many times do we find ourselves cowed into silence, afraid to say something in defense of marriage, the unborn, gender identification, or any other issue pertinent to our faith because we are afraid of what others might say in response, or how they might perceive us, or worse yet, because we want to be perceived as "politically correct"? Sadly, it is often. Jesus reminds us that humility is needed if we are to make ourselves vulnerable for the love and Word of God. Jesus humbled himself on the cross and allowed himself to become vulnerable to death itself for the sake of righteousness. We, as his disciples, can do no less.
It is fitting that be beatitudes begin and end with the promise of the kingdom of heaven, for living these beatitudes in daily life will lead to eternal happiness with God. When lived correctly, the beatitudes help us to become the saints God called and created us to be. Every Christian should know the beatitudes by heart so that they can incorporate them into daily life. Pray that God will grant you the humility to accept his will for you.
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