Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
January 30, 2011
Just as a good teacher summarizes what he’s going to say in class during the class’ first minute or two, so Jesus ¾ in the Beatitudes this Sunday ¾ summarizes all that he’s going to teach in the three years of his public preaching. Matthew describes Jesus as a sort of New Moses: that’s why he points out to us that Jesus went up a mountainside to preach the Beatitudes, just as Moses went up a mountainside to receive the Ten Commandments. In some ways, the Beatitudes are like the Ten Commandments. But on the other hand, the Beatitudes are much more profound, and much more difficult to live out in daily life.
Actually, the Beatitudes sum up more than just his preaching. They also sum up the greatest action of Jesus’ life, as well: the Beatitudes also help us understand the Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Because in the end, Jesus did not save anyone by his preaching: it was the death that he suffered on Calvary that opens the gates of heaven to us ¾ the gates that you will approach only at the moment of your death.
Saint Paul sums this up in the first letter that he wrote to the Corinthians. He asks us to consider [our] own calling to live as Christians. He reminds us that not many of [us] were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God [chooses] the foolish of the world.
And in fact, that’s what people begin to think of as if we follow the Beatitudes in our lives. The last of Jesus’ blessings especially sums up the meaning of being a “fool for Christ”, and allowing our Christian faith to shape our lives, to make a difference in what we do during the week, no matter whether we are in the classroom, in a dorm, at work, or visiting family.
The last blessing that Jesus gives is this: Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. When we listen carefully to Jesus’ words, we notice that this last blessing is the only Beatitude that Jesus gives directly to his followers. The other beatitudes all begin, “Blessed are those WHO do this or that….” These blessings could apply to any human being who tries to act virtuously in this world.
The last beatitude, however, is directed specifically to Jesus’ followers, to all of us who claim to be Christians. This last beatitude applies only to those who are willing to become “fools for Christ.” Jesus directs it to those who are willing to stand apart from a crowd and suffer rejection because they remain committed to living their faith in spite of pressure from others.
We might tend to think that this last and greatest beatitude applies only to those who live in foreign countries, where Christians are a persecuted minority. In fact, it applies to each and every Christian ¾ it applies to you ¾ whether you think your life is filled with comfort or suffering. Persecution comes not only in the midst of armed warfare, but just as surely in the midst of those who do not allow themselves to be caught up in the sort of smallness of thought, word, and actions that worldly attitudes lead us to believe are OK. To stand against such worldly attitudes leads us to depend upon Christ, and upon the faith that makes us willing always to think, speak, and act as followers of Christ Jesus.