Feb 8, 2008

Homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A - Given at Cronulla.

Readings: Zeph 2:3, 3: 12-13; I Cor 1: 26-31; Matt 5:1-12


"There are two Ways, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the two Ways." These are the opening lines of the "Didache" a first century Christian catechism used to teach new Christians the essence of the Christian faith. “There are two Ways, one of Life and one of Death.”  The way of life is the way of Jesus, and Jesus leads us towards heaven, towards eternal life.


The Beatitudes are often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, but they are almost surely a collection of Jesus’ teachings rather than a sermon delivered in one sitting.  Both the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke, could be referred to as “The Compendium of Christian Doctrine,” or maybe if they were at the beginning of the Gospels we could call it the “Preamble to the Gospels.” The Beatitudes sum up what it means to be a follower of Christ.


Some people think that the Beatitudes replace the Ten Commandments, but as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his recent book Jesus of Nazareth, “Jesus always presupposed the validity of the Ten Commandments … (and) Jesus has no intention of abolishing them.”[1]


The Beatitudes “describe what might be called the actual condition (or characteristics) of Jesus disciples. They are poor, hungry, weeping men, they are hated and persecuted.”


In the Beatitudes the “standards of the world are turned upside down”[2] and a image of Christ can be seen. The Beatitudes are “a road map for the Church” says Pope Benedict, and they give directions for discipleship.


The first beatitude is “How happy are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Most people in our world today view poverty as a bad thing, as an evil, and as something we should work towards ending. But Christ is telling us that poverty is a good thing. Pope Benedict says that “Purely Material poverty does not bring salvation.”[3] Where a person is forced to live in material poverty, where a person is plunged into extremely difficult situations, due to an unjust socio-political situation, then as Christians we should have compassion on them. Their poverty is not their choice and we should help them. We should help those who are not able to help themselves. We should people to make a choice.


Only a few saints, such as St Francis of Assisi, chose the sufferings and hardships that material poverty brings.  Perhaps what Christ is really telling us is that we should work to improve the conditions of the poor in order for the poor to have a choice.  They have the right to choose whether or not to embrace God as the most important thing in their life, rather than having poverty thrust upon them by the circumstances of life.


Last week I talked about “repentance” and about how we need to let go and allow God to take control of our lives. A person who is poor in spirit allows God to be the focus. A person who is poor in spirit will be able to survive and in fact be strengthened in their faith when they are not in control of a situation.


Spiritual poverty leads to extreme humility, and extreme humility is above all freedom for service, freedom for mission, and ultimately trust in God, says Pope Benedict.


St Paul tells us in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians that we need “to own goods as if you owned nothing.” (1Cor 7:29) Developing an interior disinterest and detachment towards our possessions and time is essential for an open relationship with Christ. The beatitudes call us to no longer live as who we are, as people living in Cronulla, as people who have control of our lives, but each of us are called to be reborn, totally from and in Christ.


To imitate the love and lifestyle of Jesus is not possible in our human nature. When we open our heart to receive the gifts of God’s love, we begin to love in a way that transcends our human nature and makes us more like God.


The beatitudes call us to become Christ, to become Christ’s hands and face and feet in the world. Pope Benedict teaches that “the world exists because God wanted to create a zone of response to his love, a zone of obedience and freedom.” [4]


We use what we have been given according to the good pleasure of God, who is the owner and master of it all. The time, talent and treasure God gives to each person is given to be used for His glory, for my needs, and for the benefit of others. It is not “mine” to do with as I please.


In both Matthew and Luke the beatitudes are a “series of bomb shells” or “flashes of lightning followed by thunder of surprise and shock" because Jesus reverses our “natural” assumption that happiness lies in riches, power, pleasure, and comfort.  We believe in personal pride; Jesus blesses poverty of spirit.  We seek pleasure; Jesus blesses those who mourn.  We see the prosperity of aggressive people; Jesus blesses the meek.  We love good food and drink; Jesus blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. He challenges his listeners to find fulfillment of their needs in God in their particular socio-economic context. 


 The challenge of the beatitudes is: “Are you going to be happy in the world’s way or in Christ’s way?”  If we choose the world’s way, we are seeking our blessings in the wrong place. Sometimes we think that good health; long life, happy relationships, and a good job are blessings we deserve for being honest, not cheating on our taxes, coming to church, and giving a little to charity.  This is the easy way of the world, but the hard way of Jesus requires toil and suffering by working for the uplift of the poor, the sick and the hungry.  God wants us to live as brothers and sisters who care for one another.  However, it yields an "eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (II Cor. 4:17).  In the final analysis, the blessing of the beatitudes is the possession of “the Kingdom of God."


[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, p70.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, p71.

[3] Pope Benedict, p76.

[4] Pope Benedict, p83.