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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
”Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you.” Mt.5:1-7

The meek and the merciful are “blessed”?
The grief-stricken are “comforted”?
“Blessed” are the “persecuted”?
How can Jesus say something like this?

It’s a reversal of everything we believe.
The rich are the truly blessed ones.
The powerful are what we all want to be.
The attainment of comfort and many goods is what we passionately desire.
So, what is Jesus talking about in this Gospel passage?

The answer Jesus gives to that question is simple and direct:
Jesus is outlining the Christian “ethic,” the Christian ideal for the way each of us is to live out our lives.

In fact, it is often referred to as the “great reversal.”
It’s a belief system that is topsy-turvy, upside down, and a complete turnaround in terms of what the “good life” ultimately looks like.

Let’s begin with Jesus’ announcement about the “poor in spirit.”
Here Jesus addresses all those people who are at the end of the rope in their lives; people who are experiencing a state of utter depression, hopelessness, emotional paralysis. People who feel dead inside. People who feel empty. People who are numb with disillusion.

Jesus has the audacity to tell them they are “blessed”!
How can this possibly be?  

Part of the answer lies in the meaning of the scriptural word commonly translated as “blessed.” On a deeper level, it’s a word that means:
“I am with you. I hear you. I am on your side.”

God is on your side – regardless of how dispirited you feel. God has not forgotten you – regardless of how neglected you feel. God is ever present – regardless of how insignificant you think you are.

You count. You matter.

The same is true for those who are meek, who are “clean of heart,” who are “peacemakers.” The same is also true for those who are insulted and persecuted because of their faith.

And there is another reason why Jesus uses the word “blessed” – or “happy,” as it is sometimes translated.

St. Paul urges us today to remember one thing especially:
“God chose the lowly and despised of the world … the weak of the world … those who count for nothing.”

Why? Why would God do that?

Why not choose those who are powerful and mighty? Why not choose those who can get things done, who can make things happen?

In a word, the answer to these questions is “powerlessness.”

What Paul means is that “power is at its best in weakness.” Again, he tells us “It is when I am weak that I am strong” (2 Corinthians, 12: 9-10).

Here he is speaking from personal experience, of being knocked off his high horse – and only then was he able to recognize and follow the Lord.

It took that dramatic “road to Damascus” trauma to get Paul’s attention and make it possible for a whole new life to be born.

The view of Alcoholics Anonymous is similar.

AA believes that “True change only happens when you let go and allow God to take over.”

This is why Step One of AA insists on the acceptance of powerlessness, the acceptance of the belief that until I admit that on my own, I can’t get well, I have to reach out to a Power greater than I am.

Or, to put it in the words of Fr. Richard Rohr,
“Until there is a person, situation, event, idea, conflict, or relationship that I cannot manage, I will never find the True Manager.”

God chooses the persecuted, the “least of these,” precisely because they are empty, vulnerable, open to new possibilities and new beginnings.
They’re willing to change.
What have they got to lose?

However, change, taking on a whole new mindset, can only begin when we rid ourselves of what Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, called the “King Baby Syndrome” – referring to our gigantic egos.

Jesus calls us in today’s Sermon on the Mount to do just that – climb down from our high horses, leave behind all that prevents us from becoming open, and accept a whole new way of living.

This is admittedly difficult stuff to achieve, very difficult. Why is it so difficult? Because it involves “dying before we die.”

And this is also why English poet W.H. Auden believes most people won’t do it.
As he puts it:
“We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die.”

That’s why Jesus believes that it will be easier for the weak, the nobodies, the “less thans”, the “poor in spirit,” and the emotionally destitute to go for broke, to follow his way – and to do it with God’s assurance that …
“I am with you. I hear you. I am on your side.”  

And that’s also why the meek and the grief-bound and the peacemakers and the “weak of the world” are truly “blessed.”

Because as we get older and wiser, we come to realize that the farther down the road of faith we travel, the more truth we find. We realize that a pure heart is much easier to live with than one lived with jealousy, resentment, or cynicism.
Step by step, we learn that following Jesus leads ultimately to a joy that nothing can take away.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you.”
Perhaps Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken” says it best:
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth …
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.

Art by Jim Matarelli
Sister Rachel’s Quote of the Week

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