Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12
The readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time present a manual for discipleship. In the first reading from the prophet Zephaniah, the prophet warns the “remnant of Israel,” a people humble and lowly, to reform their lives, be humble, and seek justice. This concept is reiterated in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where he reminds his followers that God often chooses the lowly and poor in spirit to do his work. In the Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus, drawing on the prophetic utterances of the Hebrew scriptures, declares in the Sermon on the Mount a basic framework for Christian life that seriously challenges our worldly sense of values.
The “Sermon on the Mount” is known for the spiritual and moral teachings contained in the Beatitudes, which are Wisdom sayings taken from the Hebrew scriptures. They invite us to take a second look at our world and its values. They aim to raise our perspective above the narrow limits of self-interest and profit to kindness, patience, and respect for others. They fill us with both hope and dread: hope for the idea that the road to blessedness is a heart open to God and others and dread because we often find ourselves so far from their spirit.
One thing that is not commonly noted about the “Sermon on the Mount” is how Jesus’ words would have shaken the world of those who were listening to him on the Galilean hillside that day. The Jews in Jesus’ day were living in hard times. The Romans controlled their land, took their money, abused their women, and killed their priests and anyone who resisted Roman rule. While many of the Jews who were listening to Jesus would have preferred vengeance, Jesus was now blessing the peacemakers, the merciful, and those who hunger and thirst for justice. “Blessed” is sometimes translated as happy, fortunate, or favored. In other word, Jesus is saying that divine favor is upon those who are poor, those who mourn, and those who are persecuted. Jesus was teaching his disciples how they were to live so as to achieve the fullness of life and happiness that God wills for all people.
Archbishop Elias Chacour, a scholar in Aramaic, the ancient language that Jesus actually spoke, has translated Matthew’s Greek version of the Beatitudes into Jesus’ Aramaic language and concludes that the Aramaic equivalents to “blessed” are not in the passive voice but rather in the active voice. Jesus style of teaching was stimulating, engaging, and challenging. Chacour suggests that the beatitudes should be translated:
· “Stand up, poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”
· “Rise, those who mourn, for you will be comforted.”
· “Buck up, you who are meek, for you will inherit the earth.”
· “Get up, go ahead, do something, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for you shall be satisfied.
· “Get up, go ahead, do something, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.”
Chacour’s claims that in the language of Jesus’ day, the beatitudes were a pronouncement of God’s esteem for those whose condition has been scorned by the world because they have been active and involved, and in his words, “getting their hands dirty” from dealing with the powers of this world. (Excerpt from the works of Archbishop Chacour.)
The Beatitudes have what theologians call an eschatological meaning; they promise us salvation not in this world but in the next. Jesus promises salvation to all of us as we strive to meet the demands of the Beatitudes. The healthy and the sick, the powerful and the weak, the rich and the poor – all of us are called, regardless of our circumstances, to the eternal happiness experienced by those who live up to the Beatitudes.
Sr. Mary T. Flood, OP