Our readings today begin with the prophet Zephaniah calling us to “Seek the LORD.” God did not create us and walk away. God wants to be part of our lives everyday. We are called to humble ourselves to follow him.
When we humble ourselves, we realize that God’s ways are better than our ways. From this, we observe “his law” and seek God’s justice.
Unfortunately, as in the past, many people today choose to follow their own way instead of God’s. This is sad but we are not without hope. God has always made sure that there is a “remnant of Israel” left. We may be fewer in number but we can always come together and “take refuge in the name of the LORD.”
It is the Lord who “keeps faith forever.” We pray for God to keep the faith alive within us. Faith is a gift that God offers to the “humble and lowly.” The Lord will raise up those who bow down.
This passage from Zephaniah was written between 640 and 609 B.C. but it is a message for all time. Our second reading today offers Paul’s writing to the Corinthians on the type of person that God works through.
If one is building a human army, one looks for the wise, powerful, and the noble. God chooses otherwise (see 1 Samuel 16:7). He does not pick those who are “wise by human standards” or the “powerful” or the “noble.” Instead, God chooses “the foolish of the world to shame the wise…the weak of the world to shame the strong…”the lowly and despised…who count for nothing.” Why? So that we might know that our salvation comes not from humans but from God.
Today’s gospel begins Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that spans three chapters in Matthew’s Gospel. Throughout the sermon Jesus teaches us what it means to follow God’s Commandments. However, as Jesus starts this sermon, He begins not with a list of do’s and don’ts. He begins by discussing the way we are called to be. He begins with the Beatitudes to show us that what He teaches are not just rules but a way of life (See my presentation Are They Rules Or a Way of Life).
The first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” calls us to be humble as those who are in “poor in spirit.” In humbling ourselves, we open ourselves to the Kingdom of Heaven. The third Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land,” echoes the first.
In the second Beatitude, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted,” Jesus assures that when we mourn the loss of a loved one, because we love, we are comforted by God’s love and what Jesus offers to us in his death and resurrection, eternal life.
If we humble ourselves because we seek God, we “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Jesus promises us in the fourth Beatitude that those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness…will be satisfied.” We will find satisfaction not in worldly things but in God’s love.
The fifth Beatitude calls us to be merciful. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Mercy includes forgiveness but it goes further. We are called to perform Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy” (see my presentation The Journey to Jesus: Acts of Mercy).
The sixth Beatitude calls us to be “clean of heart” because only the clean of heart can enter Heaven and “see God.” To be clean of heart, we must be without sin. Have you sinned? Do not worry! God is merciful and forgiving. Go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to confess your sins and God will make you “clean of heart.”
The seventh and eighth Beatitude might be more surprising. Jesus tells us that those “who are persecuted,” that those who are insulted and persecuted, are blessed. We may not feel “blessed” when we are persecuted and insulated because in human terms these are bad things. We must look at the second part of both of these Beatitudes. It is when we are persecuted “for the sake of righteousness” and because we follow Jesus that we are blessed.
To be “blessed” is not about human happiness. To be “blessed” is to receive God’s Grace. We become aware of the grace when we strive to follow the Lord. We cannot succeed in righteousness on our own. We don’t have to. Open yourselves to God and He will bless you with what you need to be his child. Do it not for a “reward.” Do it out of love for God. Love your neighbor as God loves you.