Pastoral Reflections

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2017

How can I become an authentic follower of Jesus? Am I living as an authentic disciple of Jesus? How can I decide what Jesus would expect of me in different circumstances? We could say that following Jesus begins firstly in our mind, then in our will and in our attitudes, and then it flows over into our actions. By way of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us the attitudes and behaviors of a true follower.

The Beatitudes are not specific guidelines for every conceivable situation we may encounter however, Jesus gives us the underlying attitudes that should inform the decisions we make in our concrete and specific circumstances.

Some might say that the Beatitudes are too lofty or idealistic and therefore impossible to live fully. Indeed, Jesus is the only one who has perfectly lived the Beatitudes he articulates. None of us living has as yet attained the perfection of Jesus so we journey daily to become more like him. The Beatitudes are our blueprint for Christian living. The more precisely we live the Beatitudes the closer we come to Jesus. In truth, the blessed par excellence is Jesus. He is, in fact, the definitive poor in spirit, the one afflicted, the meek one, the one hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the pure of heart, and the peacemaker. He is the one persecuted for the sake of justice. The Beatitudes serve to show us the spiritual features of Jesus and thus help us to express and experience his mystery. To the extent that we accept Jesus’ proposal, as embodied in the Beatitudes and set out to follow him, each one in his own circumstances, we too can share in his blessedness. To help us reflect on the Beatitudes, let us look at Jesus living them in some specific situations in his life. Let us also examine his teachings, which may also reflect these Beatitudes.

First we hear, blessed are the poor in spirit, (those authentically humble) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3) We see Jesus being poor in spirit, when he defers to the will of his Father, in Gethsemane. Jesus prayed thrice that the cup of his passion pass him by, but concluded each time with, ‘Father, not my will but yours be done’. In John 4:34, he says my food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. Jesus teaches this beatitude when he says, ... ‘unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matt 18:3-4)

Second, we hear, blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matt 5:4) Mourning should be understood as sorrow that God’s will is not being recognized; it’s the grief over sin. We see this beatitude in the life of Jesus as he drew near Jerusalem and was troubled because it would not recognize him as its Messiah. We read in Luke 19: 41-42 …he saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace - but now it is hidden from your eyes…” Jesus teaches this mourning for sin when he urges repentance. In Luke 13: 4-5, Jesus reflects over the eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell in on them. He says, ‘do you think that (the 18 who died) were more guilty than everyone else, who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!’

The third beatitude is, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matt 5:5) When we understand “meek” in the sense of non-violent resistance and not returning violence for violence, we see Jesus living this beatitude. When one of the temple guards struck him during his Passion and Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” (John 18:22-23) We hear Jesus teaching meekness, when he reflects, “You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. ' But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to the law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.’ (Matt 5:38-42)

Fourth, Jesus says, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matt 5:6) Jesus hungered for righteousness and therefore much of his ministry was directed to the underprivileged. He said to the disciples of John the Baptist, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. (Matt 11:4-5) Jesus was known as a righteous person even by Gentiles; Pilate’s wife said, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream today because of him.’ (Matt 27:19) Jesus encouraged righteousness in his teaching; he told the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax-Collector to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. The Pharisee prayed in the temple, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former… (Luke 18:11-14)

The fifth beatitude is, blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matt 5:7) We see Jesus living this beatitude when he forgave his crucifiers, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’ (Luke 23:34) Forgiveness featured many times in Jesus’ teaching, he presents both the reality of God’s mercy and our need to forgive each other. In a parable about the Good Shepherd, Jesus describes a shepherd leaving the ninety-nine sheep to search for the lost one and when he finds it he rejoices. Jesus remarks, … ‘in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance’. (Luke 15:7) Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:21-22)

The sixth beatitude reads, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matt 5:8) We can understand pure in heart as broader than chastity. In fact, the meaning of this beatitude is, being true to one’s vocation. We see Jesus living this beatitude when he resisted the devil’s temptations in the desert saying, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” (Matt 4:10) Jesus taught the importance of purity of heart when he said, ‘No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God’. (Luke 9:62)

The seventh beatitude articulated by Jesus is, blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matt 5:9) Jesus lived this beatitude during his arrest in Gethsemane when one of the disciples, struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said in reply, “Stop, no more of this!” Then he touched the servant's ear and healed him. (Luke 22:50-51) Jesus taught his disciples that he alone is the source of true peace, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid’. (John 14:27)

The final beatitude is blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:10-12) We see Jesus living this beatitude in his Passion when he was persecuted and falsely accused. In Matthew we read, ‘The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward’. (Matt 26:59-60) In Luke we read, ‘(Even) Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate’. (Luke 23:11) Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people and said to them, “You brought this man to me and accused him of inciting the people to revolt. I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him, nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us. So no capital crime has been committed by him’. (Luke 23:13-15) Jesus taught his disciples to expect to be persecuted because they were his followers. He says, ‘If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you’. (John 15:18-19)

Following Jesus begins firstly in our mind, and our will, and in our attitudes, and then flows over into our actions. In the Beatitudes Jesus teaches us the attitudes of a Christian. Jesus is the only one who has perfectly lived these Beatitudes, and we continue to journey toward what we are called to be. We aspire to live the Beatitudes. The more we live the beatitudes, the closer we make our way to Jesus.

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