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Michael SimoneJanuary 15, 2017
Photo via iStock

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one bringing good news! (Is 52:7)

Liturgical day
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), Jan. 29, 2017
Zeph 2:3, 3:12-13; Ps 146; 1 Cor 1:26-31; Mt 5:1-12

Does Christ’s message ever shock you?

What words does the world needs to hear? How can you speak them?

How can you live out your favorite beatitude today?

The beatitudes are promises that God has made to humanity. Some of these promises are fulfilled in every age; mourners are comforted each day. Others will only find fulfillment in the fullness of God’s kingdom: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.”

The beatitudes are eschatological, describing life in God’s kingdom. There will be no mourning, no want, no lack of mercy; grace will abound; and God’s own peace will bring injustice to an end. This was a message of hope for Jesus’ first disciples. They lived in uncertain times, haunted by economic insecurity and threats of violence. This was also a message of hope for Matthew’s audience. They were probably wealthier than Jesus’ first disciples, but they likely suffered greater social and political persecution as a result. The beatitudes promise that present suffering in God’s service will lead to future joy for oneself and for Christians yet to come.

Jesus searched the Scriptures to craft this message. He found promises that God had made to Israel in the past, and made them relevant to present circumstances. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, for example, God repeatedly affirms his care for the poor. Isaiah promised divine comfort to mourners (Is 61:2-3). The psalms promise that that the meek will inherit (Ps 37:11), that those who hunger and thirst will be satisfied (Ps 107:5-9) and that the pure of heart will ascend to the Lord (Ps 24:3-4). Jesus reached deep into his tradition to find words of comfort that were meaningful to the people he served.

Naming the poor, the weak, the mourning and the hungry “blessed” was deliberately shocking. Such language requires a firm belief that God’s kingdom is on its way. Without this, the beatitudes are airy platitudes, or worse, condescending justifications of human misery. Belief in the coming kingdom makes each of these statements a promise of salvation. Jesus believed he lived in the time of fulfillment. His words are urgent: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land—soon! Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy—soon!”

Matthew the Evangelist understood that, in spite of Jesus’ delay, God’s kingdom has already begun. When Christ’s disciples reveal it through word and example, they start to realize the promise of the beatitudes: they obtain mercy, they find God among the poor, they live under God’s reign.

Like Jesus, we need to search the Scriptures to craft new messages of hope. Blessed are the anxious and the depressed; the God who feeds the birds of the air will care for their every need. Blessed are those who destroy the lives of others; they know not what they do and they shall be forgiven. Blessed are lives lost to abortion; God has formed them in the womb and loves them still. Blessed are children traumatized by war; they will play in the streets once again. Blessed are those defeated by economic injustice; they will find plenty on God’s holy mountain. Words like these will shock the world out of its despair and turn its heart once again to dreams of hope.

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