Sunday: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Date: January 29, 2017. Year: A The readings: [Zeph. 2:3; 3:12-13; 1 Cor. 1:26-31; Mt. 5:1-12a] The message: Blessed are the poor in spirit. Prepared by: CATHOLIC DOORS MINISTRY Total words: 2019
"Blessed are the poor in spirit." [Mt. 5:2] Today's readings from the Holy Scriptures favour the poor in spirit versus the proud. From the Book of Zephaniah, we heard God's promise of leaving in our midst a humble and lowly people. [Zeph. 3:12] From the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, we heard that God chose what is meek in the world. [1 Cor. 1:27] And from the Gospel of Matthew, we heard that the poor in spirit are blessed for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs." [Mt. 5:3]
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Chapter 61 from the Book of Isaiah provides us with a clue as to its meaning. It states, "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to" [Is. 61:1] "provide for those who mourn in Zion - to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display His glory." [Is. 61:3]
Based on this passage that symbolically echoes the rewards that are mentioned in the beatitudes, the "poor in spirit" is one who has a "faint spirit." And what does it mean to have a faint spirit? It means to be frail, weak, feeble. It means to be an infirm, indistinct, lacking force. These characteristics describe the submissive nature of the person who is common, plain, simple. These characteristics describe the person who is humble in nature. All these characteristics of the faint spirit oppose the proud spirit. These characteristics oppose wealth, status, self- assertion and strife.
The poor in spirit, the common or simple person, is not one who became poor as a result of business failure or personal bankruptcy. He is poor in spirit in the sense that he was born simple and remained simple, his poverty not allowing him the arrogance and assertiveness of the wealthy.
Today's First Reading from the Book of Zephaniah [Zeph. 2:3; 3:12-13] suggests that if the humble seek to obey the commands of the Lord, seeking righteousness and humility, maybe, on the Day of Judgment, they will be hidden from the wrath of the Lord. Because of their simplicity, their humility, their righteousness, the Lord God will go easy on them, maybe even bypassing them.
Why is this? It is because, as a general rule, the humble of the world maintain a personal daily relationship with the Lord, abandoning themselves to His Divine Will. This opposes the rich and proud who do not have time for their Creator. Their fame, social life, wealth, pleasures, addictions, all of these take up their time. It is no wonder that when the wrath of God strikes them on Judgment Day, it will be like a terrible storm or an invasion.
The First Reading continued by stating, "For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord...; they shall do no wrong and utter no lies, nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths. Then they will pasture and lie down, and no one shall make them afraid." [Zeph. 3:12-3]
These two verses perfectly describe those who have consecrated their lives to the Lord Jesus. Humble and lowly, detached from the world, dedicated towards serving others, some have embraced the religious life and made the vows of obedience and poverty before their superiors. Relying heavily upon God in making their decisions, they know that the grace of God is sufficient to meet all their needs, the physical ones and the spiritual ones.
These souls strive for perfection, the perfect holiness that is found in Christ Jesus. They have no fear of what this world can do to them because they lay their treasures in Heaven, "where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal." [Mt. 6:19]
Today's Second Reading [1 Cor. 1:26-31] emphasized that God chose what is weak in the world. [1 Cor. 1:27] In his writing to the Corinthians, St. Paul was reminding the faithful that among the educated in Corinth, those of authority, the powerful and those of the noble class, few of them had been called to the faith. Why? Because God favoured the lowly, the poor, the slaves, the "nonentities", the "nobody". By this Divine choice, God destroyed the pride of those who considered themselves as something.
By this Divine choice, no one could boast that they were saved by their own works. "No, but by the law of faith." [Rom. 3:27; Eph. 2:9] Through faith in Jesus Christ and the Sacrament of Baptism, [Jn. 3:5] the merciful goodness of God is acknowledged.
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. He chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. He chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in His presence. [1 Cor. 1:27-9]
In Christ, the Christians possessed all what the Greek and the Jews strived for. For the Corinthians, God was the source of life in Christ Jesus, who became for them wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. [1 Cor. 1:30] From being a "nobody," by God's call, the Corinthians were transformed into new creations, everything old having passed away. [2 Cor. 5:17]
Paul concluded by stating, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." [1 Cor. 1:31] These words echo the Words of God to the prophet Jeremiah. "Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know Me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord." [Jer. 9:23- 4]
The subject of today's Gospel Reading [Mt. 5:1-12a] consisted of what many know as the "Sermon on the Mount" or "The Beatitudes." This event took place up on the mountain where Jesus was surrounded by His disciples. [Mt. 5:1-2] The Sacred Words of the Lord, spoken from His Heart, were welcomed by those who were present, not the self-sufficient authorities, the powerful, the noble class or the proud, but rather the pious believers who strived to grow in the truth.
Prior to reviewing the beatitudes, it is necessary for all to understand in what sense the Jewish people perceived the meaning of the word "blessed." For them, blessedness meant "happy is the one who has a long life and material prosperity." The teachings of Jesus came to them as a total surprise. Jesus took away the focus on what men "have," refocusing it on what men "are." He described to them an excellence of life that was impossible to achieve without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The first two beatitudes refer to those who are blessed because they are poor in spirit and blessed are those who mourn because they will be comforted. [Mt. 5:3-4] These two beatitudes have already been explained during the beginning of my homily.
Next comes, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." [Mt. 5:5] To be meek means the same as to be "lowly." These meek ones are persons who are unable to be aggressive.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." [Mt. 5:6] As a general rule, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are the one who maintain a daily personal relationship with the Lord. Submitted to the Divine Will, they see the injustice around them and pray for God's intervention. These words echo other Words of Jesus that are found in the same Gospel of Matthew. Jesus said, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven." [Mt. 5:20] True righteousness is manifested in acts, not in words only. Jesus did not say, "Do what I say, not what I do!" He said, "Do what I do!" Words without actions are meaningless!
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy." [Mt. 5:7] Forgiveness is the greatest obstacle to overcome during the process of being sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit. If one cannot forgive others, he impedes the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit that transforms the soul in Christlikeness. Remember the Words of Jesus when He said, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged." [Lk. 6:37] "For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get." [Mt. 7:2] To receive God's forgiveness for our trespasses, we must forgive others of their trespasses against us.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." [Mt. 5:8] What does it mean to be "pure of heart?" Jesus expands on this subject in Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Matthew. "It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles." [Mt. 15:10] "What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person..." [Mt. 15:18-20]
The pure of heart "will see God." They will see God in the sense that they will know God. In their knowledge of God, they will enjoy a filial relationship with God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." [Mt. 5:9] The peacemakers are those who reconcile quarrels. All Christians are called to be reconciliators as commanded in the Holy Scriptures. "So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift." [Mt. 5:23-4]
In other words, if you are not at peace with your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your children or a neighbour, before receiving the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist during the celebration of the Holy Mass, make peace with your opponent. Then come before the Altar to receive the Lord Jesus in your heart. For if you die before forgiving others or before being forgiven for your trespasses, you may fall short of qualifying as a peacemaker and being called a "child of God." [Mt. 5:9]
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." [Mt. 5:10-2]
Here, the Gospel speaks of two kinds of persecution. The first kind in Matthew 5:10 consists of being persecuted for what is right. An example would be defending the underdog, the black sheep of the family, the minorities. The second kind of persecution that is mentioned in Matthew 5:11 has to do with spreading and defending the Words of God in fidelity to the Holy Catholic Church. As some of you may recall from previous readings, some of the Apostles were whipped for speaking about Jesus. As the prophets of the Old Testament were persecuted and even murdered, it is to be expected that some of today's saints will also be persecuted, some enduring martyrdom in the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
As can be appreciated, the poor in spirit, the humble, will not inherit a powerful worldly kingdom. Their eternal reward is spiritual. Those who persevere to the end, maintaining a simple life of obedience, humility and servitude, they will no longer mourn. For they will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven as sons of God.
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[The readings were taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (C) 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the United States of America.]
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"Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the Lord's wrath. For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord - the remnant of Israel; they shall do no wrong and utter no lies, nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths. Then they will pasture and lie down, and no one shall make them afraid." [Zeph. 2:3; 3:12-13]
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"Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." [1 Cor. 1:26-31]
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"When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and he taught them, saying: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." [Mt. 5:1-12a]