1st Reading – Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13
Seek the LORD, all you humble of the earth,
who have observed his law;
seek justice, seek humility;
perhaps you may be sheltered
on the day of the LORD’s anger.
But I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD:
the remnant of Israel.
They shall do no wrong
and speak no lies;
nor shall there be found in their mouths
a deceitful tongue;
they shall pasture and couch their flocks
with none to disturb them.
Today’s first reading from the little-known prophet Zephaniah uses bold lines to sketch two very different scenes. In the first, the prophet exhorts the people to reform their lives; the second is an oracle of salvation that promises and smaller but renewed community.
Though these verses originate from different sections of the book of Zephaniah, placed together as they are in this reading they interpret each other.
Seek the LORD, all you humble of the earth, who have observed his law; seek justice, seek humility;
The opening exhortation sets the stage for the oracle that follows.
The prophet addresses the people with a three-fold admonishment: Seek the LORD! Seek justice! Seek humility! The verbs are intensive imperatives in form, indicating the urgency of the search. They imply that the search is necessary because something has been lost or in some way has disappeared.
“Seek the LORD” is usually a call to worship, however that does not seem to be the meaning here. The context and content of the three-fold exhortation suggest that what is being required is a complete change of heart.
perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger.
Israel is being told to seek the LORD after having violated the covenant; to seek righteousness after having turned to sin; to seek humility after having acted arrogantly.
This degenerate behavior seems to have occurred in the past, since the people are now called “humble of the earth” and are described as those who “observed his law.” However, there is still an edge to this exhortation, a sting of uncertainty: the prophet cannot guarantee forgiveness and salvation, all he can say is “perhaps” (‘ûlay).
Perhaps they will be protected from the wrath of God.
But I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD: the remnant of Israel.
We now shift to the oracle, which provides us with a very different picture. This is an oracle of salvation, loving words of God that offer assurance and hope.
Once again Israel is addressed, but this time there is a definite promise rather than a hint at a vague possibility. Here God promises that there will be a remnant: a portion of the people that will not only survive, they will faithfully conform to the dictates of the covenant.
This remnant will be humble and lowly, suggesting that they have been sobered by the suffering they have experienced. Aware of their own dismal situation, these people have taken refuge in God.
Since one’s name represented the essence of a person, the name of the LORD represented the essence of God. Therefore, to take refuge in the name of God is to seek shelter in God himself.
They shall do no wrong and speak no lies; nor shall there be found in their mouths a deceitful tongue; they shall pasture and couch their flocks with none to disturb them.
The path of righteousness the remnant will follow will be the consequence of their deliverance, not the cause of it. There is no thought that the blessings they will enjoy are rewards for their fidelity. Rather, every good that comes to them is a gift from God.
It is God who promises there will be a remnant; it is God who will shelter them; it is God who will ensure they are not disturbed.
Salvation and prosperity come from the hand of God.
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters.
Not many of you were wise by human standards,
not many were powerful,
not many were of noble birth.
Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise,
and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,
and God chose the lowly and despised of the world,
those who count for nothing,
to reduce to nothing those who are something,
so that no human being might boast before God.
It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus,
who became for us wisdom from God,
as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,
so that, as it is written,
“Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”
The focus of today’s second reading is the question of honor and shame.
Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth that, judged by the standards of society at that time, they are unimportant; they are really nobodies.
They lack education and do not belong to the intellectual elite; they do not exercise political clout; they are not wellborn in the social sense.
They have little if anything about which they can boast.
Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something,
While there is evidence that the early Christian community included some prominent members, Paul’s evaluation of the makeup of the church was probably an accurate one. At the heart of Jesus’ teaching was the promise of a new age, a time of eschatological fulfillment when wrongs would be righted and society would be reshaped so all would gain access to the blessings life has to offer.
Although his interpretation of this promise was radically different from the overriding view of the people of his day, Jesus inherited this religious teaching from ancient Israel. He saw himself as the fulfillment of messianic expectation.
Promises such as these would attract people who were oppressed or felt dispossessed of the things of this world. In contrast, the prosperous and otherwise privileged would not be apt to look favorably at a promise to revamp the very social structures benefiting them.
It’s no wonder that those who were needy flocked to Jesus and, after his death and resurrection, to those who preached his message of hope.
so that no human being might boast before God.
Besides this possible sociological explanation, there is also a theological reason given for the composition of the church. According to Paul, God chooses the nobodies of the world in order to shame those who think they are somebodies. Those who lack honor in the eyes of the world are highly honored by being chosen by God, while those of the world honors are shamed by being overlooked by God.
Paul states that God acts in this way so no one can boast of their own accomplishments. Whoever boasts, should boast in God.
In other words, when God does wondrous things through the foolish or the weak or the lowly, it is very clear to all that it is the power of God at work and not anyone’s human abilities.
It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,
Paul’s argument next turns from ecclesiology to christology. He insists that Christ Jesus is the real wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24), the depository of righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), the source of our sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:11), and the one responsible for our redemption (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Every good thing we have, we have received because of Christ.
so that, as it is written, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”
It would seem that it’s not so bad being nobodies after all, because nobodies give witness to the glory of Christ Jesus.
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.”
Today we hear the Beatitudes, which Jesus gave as the first part of the Sermon on the Mount.
A beatitude, or macarism, is a type of wisdom teaching that draws a connection between a behavior and its associated consequences. Most if not all of the sentiments expressed here are found elsewhere in Jewish teaching.
For depth and breadth of thought, this passage is on a level with the Ten Commandments of the Old Covenant and the Lord’s Prayer of the New Covenant. However, the Beatitudes surpass both of the others in its poetical beauty.
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,
The preaching and miracles of Jesus attracted crowds of people, making it necessary for him to leave the area and ascend a mountain to continue his teaching. This setting is why this speech is called the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus is teaching both the disciples and the crowd, as can be seen at the end of the Sermon (Matthew 7:28).
saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The word translated as “blessed” is makários, a complex term that conveys multiple levels of goodness: joy, happiness, serenity, and loveliness.
The first beatitude outlines the connection between poverty and the soul. This religious concept of poverty has more to do with a religious attitude of neediness and of humility towards God than with material poverty, as seen by the qualifier “in spirit.”
A person is poor in spirit when they have recourse to God without relying on his own merits and who trusts in God’s mercy to be saved.
This religious attitude of poverty is closely related to what is called “spiritual childhood.” A Christian sees themselves as a little child in the presence of God, a child who owns nothing: everything they have comes from God and belongs to God. Spiritual poverty means being detached from material things.
Blessed are they who mourn,
The second and fourth beatitudes address inner turmoil. Those who mourn are those who suffer from any kind of affliction and who bear their suffering with love and with a spirit of atonement. We can also interpret this mourning as grief over our brokenness and ineptitude as humans who so easily fall into sin. Grief in us develops compassion for others.
The beatitudes are not “entrance requirements” for the kingdom of God, but rather the qualities which with God’s blessing will come to full fruition when the kingdom is fully inaugurated.
for they will be comforted.
The Spirit of God will console with peach and joy, even in this life, those who weep for their sins, and later he will give them a share in the fullness of happiness and glory in heaven.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
The meek are those who patiently suffer unjust persecution; those who remain serene, humble, and steadfast in adversity and do not give way to resentment or discouragement.
The virtue of meekness is very necessary in the Christian life. Usually irritableness, which is very common, stems from a lack of humility and interior peace.
“The land” they will inherit is generally understood to be our heavenly fatherland.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
The notion of righteousness (or justice) in Holy Scripture is an essentially religious one. A righteous person is one who sincerely strives to do the will of God. Righteousness, in the language of the Bible, is the same as what is today called “holiness.”
In his Commentary on Matthew (5, 6) Saint Jerome teaches that in this beatitude, God is asking us not simply to have a vague desire for righteousness: we should hunger and thirst for it, that is, we should love and strive earnestly to seek what makes a person righteous in God’s eyes.
Essentially, God thirsts for us to thirst for him.
We should want holiness as much we want food and water.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Mercy is the disposition that God has for sinners (Exodus 34:6-7). Mercy means being understanding towards the defects of others, overlooking them, helping them cope with them, and loving them despite whatever defects they may have.
Those who seek mercy from God are required by God to extend it to others. This is a repetitive theme throughout the Old Testament and was also taught by Jesus (Matthew 18:21-35).
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Christ teaches us that the source of the quality of human acts lies in the heart, that is, in a man’s soul, in the depth of his spirit.
“When we speak of a person’s heart, we refer not just to his sentiments, but to the whole person in his loving dealings with others. In order to help us understand divine things, Scripture uses the expression ‘heart’ in its full meaning, as the summary and source, expression and ultimate basis, of one’s thoughts, words, and actions. A man is worth what his heart is worth” (Saint Jose Escrivá, Christ Is Passing By, 164).
Cleanness of heart is a gift of God, which expresses itself in a capacity to love, in having an upright and pure attitude to everything noble. As Saint Paul says, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Helped by God’s grace, Christians should strive to cleanse their heart and acquire this purity, the reward for which is the vision of God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Peace and tranquil order have been God’s desire for us from the beginning. Our sin disrupted this order and destroyed the peace.
Peacemakers are those who foster peace, in themselves and in others, and who, as a basis for that, try to be reconciled and to reconcile others with God.
Being at peace with God is the cause and the effect of every kind of peace. Those who work to re-establish God’s peace will be known as his children. “They shall be called sons of God” is a Hebraicism often found in Sacred Scripture.
We should note that the Beatitudes are not addressing distinct groups of people (the poor in spirit vs. the meek vs. the hungry): these are not different people or kinds of people, but different demands made on everyone who wants to be a disciple of Christ.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Commitment to Jesus and to his cause is bound to bring insult and persecution. Circumstances arise in a Christian’s life that call for heroism, where no compromise is acceptable: either one stays true to Jesus Christ no matter the cost, or one denies him.
Those who remain true to Christ will inherit the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom that is not of this world.
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.
There are only eight beatitudes; this is an expansion of the previous verse. It is an exhortation to persevere through the challenges Jesus has described.
The Beatitudes are acutely paradoxical. In the time of Jesus, the people who were considered blessed were those who were financially well-off, who had healthy children, and who were respected by others in society. To lack these things would cause suffering, and suffering was viewed as punishment for sin. To claim that the poor, the sorrowful, and the hungry were blessed was to challenge the accepted beliefs of the time. Christ is inviting us to turn our standards and our way of life upside down and inside out.
The Beatitudes challenge all people, poor or rich, marginalized or influential, to live the gospel. Everyone is called to become a single-hearted disciple of Jesus Christ and a witness of God’s love to others, especially to those in need.
Connections and Themes
last Sunday we reflected on various aspects of the disciple as one who is called. This Sunday we see that the disciple is also one who learns. For the next six Sundays, we see Jesus giving his disciples lessons in the art of discipleship.
The learner. To follow Jesus does not mean merely that one travels with him from place to place. It means that one learns from him, that one follows his manner of life and his way of thinking. To follow Jesus means to follow his example in the way he respects himself and other people, in his use of the things of the natural world. It means that one listens to what he says and asks for an explanation when what he says is not understood. All of this requires that the disciple be a learner one who can learn from the life of Jesus as well as from his teaching.
In order to be a good learner, the disciple must have the requisite inner attitudes; the disciple must be humble, open, and willing to be coached. This should not be difficult, because as Paul reminds us, God calls those who are foolish and weak and lowly. It may be that God calls all to be disciples, but only those with the inner attitude of the learner are willing to follow. It is very difficult for those who consider themselves powerful and of noble birth to place themselves in the position of follower, to consider themselves foolish or weak or lowly.
The lessons. The first lessons the disciples must learn are found in the Beatitudes. The same lessons are placed before us, the modern-day disciples. We must all look honestly into our minds and hearts to discover how we manage the goods of this world. Do we hoard them? Do we use them as leverage against others? In other words, how can we learn the lessons of poverty and meekness? Suffering is an integral part of life. How do we react to it? And do we suffer for the right reasons? Do we grieve because we are petty and feeling sorry for ourselves, or because we long for a world of justice and peace? How can we learn the lessons that suffering has to teach?
As disciples, our inner dispositions must be patterned after those of Jesus, the one we follow. As disciples, we are taught to forgive those who have wronged us, whether those be family members, neighbors, co-workers, or members of other races, cultures, or nations. We are taught to be single-minded and not duplicitous in our dealings with others, whoever they may be. We are taught to work for peace rather than revenge. However, this peace cannot be bought at any price. It must be coupled with righteousness, and this may exact a price that is dear.
The setting of Jesus’ teaching is so serene — a mountain apart, a teacher with his disciples gathered around him, simple statements coupled with glorious rewards. However, the reality of the lessons is in stark contrast with this tranquil scene. These Beatitudes, these blessings, call for profound inner transformation.
The program. The gospel outlines the kind of person the disciple is to become; the psalm sketches the program to which the learner is called. The disciples of Jesus are not merely his followers; they also continue the work he began. And the work that Jesus took upon himself is the work of God. First God, then Jesus, and then the disciple work to secure justice for the oppressed, give food to the hungry, give sight to the blind, protect strangers, sustain the fatherless and the widowed. In other words, in whatever circumstance of life we find ourselves, as disciples of Jesus, we work to sustain the good that is in the world and to transform whatever needs transformation. We do this as parents, as teachers, as health care personnel, as people in business or commerce or any kind of service to others. This period of Ordinary Time provides us with a moment to listen to the lessons Jesus would teach us.