Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel Text: Matthew 5:1-12
vs.1 Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples.
vs.2 Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:
vs.3 “Happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
vs.4 Happy the gentle; they shall have the earth for their heritage.
vs.5 Happy those who mourn; they shall be comforted.
vs.6 Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right; they shall be satisfied.
vs.7 Happy the merciful; they shall have mercy shown to them.
vs.8 Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God.
vs.9 Happy the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God.
vs.10 Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
vs.11 Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account.
vs.12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.”
We have four sets of homily notes to choose from.
Please scroll down the page.
Michel DeVerteuil : A Trinidadian Holy Ghost Priest, Specialist in Lectio Divina
Thomas O’Loughlin: Professor of Historical Theology, University of Nottingham.
John Littleton: Director of the Priory Institute , Tallaght, D 24
Donal Neary SJ: Editor of The Sacred Heart Messenger *******************************************************
Lectio Divina with the Sunday Gospels
On this Sunday the “continuous reading” of St Matthew’s gospel (see last week’s “guidelines”) leads us to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ long discourse which runs from chapters 5 to 7 and has always been recognised as a summary of all his teaching.
If the Sermon on the Mount summarises the teachings of Jesus’ public ministry, the Sermon itself is summed up in the Beatitudes. Today’s reading therefore launches us on the journey to a deeper understanding of the public ministry which the Church invites us to make during Ordinary Time (see last week’s guidelines).
Doing lectio divina on the Beatitudes is a different exercise from reading a book on them. There have been many excellent books on the Beatitudes in recent years, No matter how helpful such books are, reading them is not the same as doing lectio on the Beatitudes. With a book our aim is to grasp the message of the Beatitudes. With lectio divina the aim is similar but the method different. We focus on the text, get to love it (perhaps for the first time) and let it lead us to love the Beatitudes. As a result the text engages us. Our response to it is not merely “What a beautiful message!” but “What a beautiful text!” and “”It has touched me deeply!”
The Jerusalem Bible version introduces each beatitude with the word “happy“. This is an unfortunate translation which the New Jerusalem Bible has corrected by returning to the traditional “blessed“. Even with “blessed” we need to give it its full biblical meaning. It includes being “happy” (an aspect which was neglected in the past) but adds the notions of “specially chosen by God” and “a blessing for others”.
The Beatitudes are “wisdom teaching“, a biblical literary form that our Church has tended to neglect in recent centuries. Jesus is reporting facts, not moralising. At no point does he say, “you should do this.” He says simply, “people like this are blessed” and lets us draw our own conclusions. We respond by entering into the truth of the passage – not “Jesus is telling me to do this“, but “this teaching is true.” The wisdom is celebratory and our meditation must be the same. Each beatitude begins with an exclamation – “How blessed!” I must modify the previous point therefore. Our response is not “this teaching is true” but “how true it is!” and even, “how wonderful that it is true!”
Wisdom is universal by definition. The Beatitudes are teachings in human living, valid not for Christians only (still less for Catholics only) but for “all men and women of good will”, an expression used by all recent popes in their social teaching. We must make sure that our meditation leads to universal conclusions: “all gentle people have the earth for their heritage”, “all who are pure of heart see God”, and so forth.
As always with lectio divina, the text is intended to be in dialogue with our experience. The Beatitudes throw light on our experience and our experience explains the Beatitudes. Our response is not merely “this is true” but “this helps me to understand this parent, friend or teacher who touched my life very deeply“ and in turn, “this person helps me understand the Beatitudes.”
Referring to concrete experience is specially important with the Beatitudes which are expressed in biblical language that is foreign to us, e.g. “poor in spirit”, “hunger and thirst for what is right”, “pure of heart”, etc. With them especially we will start with our experience of people and let them explain the meaning of the beatitude, e.g. “my mother was the kind of person to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs, so being poor in spirit means being like her”.
Jesus himself is the prime example of the Beatitudes in practice. We should apply them to him, basing ourselves on some incident reported in the gospels.
The Beatitudes constitute a whole. They are seven (in the bible, the number indicates perfection) aspects of the model human being – for us Christians, the Jesus way of being human. There is a movement between the seven so that the full picture of the ideal human being unfolds gradually, one beatitude leading spontaneously to another, until we grasp the entire teaching in its complex harmony.
It would be a mistake to look for these connections too quickly however; our reflection would end up “heady” rather than “celebratory“. We take one beatitude at a time (any one), stay with it for as long as we are comfortable and then allow the connections with others to emerge in our consciousness, so that they are all contained in the one.
This will take time and we shouldn’t hurry the process. At any one stage in our lives we will find that one beatitude is particularly dear to us. We must be in no hurry to move to another. Perhaps one lifetime is not long enough to love them all – and in any case when we go to the Father we will see them as one.
In the bible (as in all great religious traditions) we enter wisdom through paradox. Things that are usually opposed are reconciled at a higher level, giving us new insight – and new joy. The Beatitudes are paradoxes and we must make an effort to read them as such which is difficult because they have become familiar and no longer surprise us. If a beatitude does not surprise (even shock) us, it means that we have lost its meaning.
The paradox is in two “movements” (like the movements of a symphony).
a) A main section brings together two “opposites”:
– “poverty of spirit” and “possessing the kingdom”;
– “gentleness” and “having the earth for one’s heritage”;
– “mourning” and “being comforted“, etc.
The bringing together is simultaneous. We weaken the Beatitudes when we make the second a “reward” for the first.
The bringing together must be based on experience. The question in each case is, “When have I seen these two things combined in one person?”
b) Having seen the combination, we exclaim “How blessed!” (in the wide sense explained above).
The Beatitudes are generally interpreted as a teaching on the interior life, and so they are. This must be correctly understood however. According to biblical spirituality, our inner dispositions are reflected outwardly, not merely in one-to-one relationships but in every area of human living, including public life, international relations, etc.
Some commentators make a distinction between inward and outward looking beatitudes:
a) three are “inward looking“: poor in spirit, mourn, pure in heart;
b) four are “outward looking“: gentle, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, peacemakers, being persecuted.
We must not make too much of this distinction however. All the beatitudes speak of inner dispositions which are reflected outwardly. What we must do is give the beatitudes their full scope, seeing them as ideals of human behaviour at every level:
– our relationship with God;
– one-to-one relationships, as parents, friends, teachers, spiritual guides;
– leadership styles in Church or secular communities;
– relationships between communities within nations and nations within the human family.
Verses 1 and 2 give the setting of the Sermon.
They remind us that every gospel passage, even a long discourse like this one, is a story. It is never a text book reading, a disembodied “voice” speaking to us from an indeterminate place. We read it as a story then, asking ourselves (from our experience as always) who has been the Jesus who “began to speak” to us in this vein.
Verses 3 to 12 can be divided
a) 3-10: a main section which proclaims the “blessedness” of the Jesus way;
b) 11-12: a small section outlining its negative aspects.
This first beatitude summarises them all. We will experience this by seeing how it is lived in each of the others.
The two sides of the paradox are
a) “Poor in spirit“ means not being attached to anything less than the absolute.
b) “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” means attaining the absolute. We can give this as wide a meaning as we are attracted to, e.g. union with God, a wonderful human relationship, a harmonious community. etc.
a) We must make sure to relate “gentle” to concrete experience; e.g. it must include being “non-violent” in one form or another.
b) The “earth” can be taken literally, giving the beatitude an ecological meaning but we can also interpret it of a community.
With this beatitude especially we must not pose a time lag between the two aspects of the paradox. Jesus’ teaching is that only those who know how to mourn will experience true comfort.
“What is right” is an unfortunate translation. The traditional “righteousness” is better. It means God’s plan of harmony for ourselves as individuals and for all communities, including the entire human family.
We can interpret “have mercy shown them” of the response of others, “people will show them mercy”. Or we can take it as a Jewish way of saying, “God will show them mercy”. In either interpretation it is a “paradoxical” statements. We often think that the way to have people on our side is by inspiring them with fear, and believers tend to think that God is pleased when they are hard-line.
We give a wide interpretation to both sides of the paradox. “Pure of heart” means being free from every form of ego-centredness. “See God” means being conscious of the divinity in every person and situation.
Verse 9 is paradoxical for the same reason as verse 7.
In verse 10 again “right” is better translated as “righteousness“.
Verses 11 and 12
Here again we must give a correct interpretation to the future tense. The contrast is not between present and future but between the inner peace of believers and the turmoil which surrounds them.
“When I was, he was not, now he is, I am not.“ …Hindu sage
Lord, how true it is that when we are poor in spirit, your kingdom is ours.
“I can be saved only by being one with the universe.” …Teilhard de Chardin
Lord, forgive us that we look on the earth as an enemy to be conquered.
Teach us to be gentle
so that we will experience the earth as a precious heritage that we come home to.
“If you love God the pain does not go away but you live more fully.” … Michael Hollings
Lord, forgive us that we are afraid to mourn and so don’t experience your comfort.
“The ideals which have lighted my way and time after time given me new courage to face life cheerfully have been kindness, beauty and truth. The trite subjects of life – possessions, outward success, luxury – have always seemed contemptible.”… Einstein
Lord, forgive us that we no longer hunger and thirst for your righteousness and so are never satisfied.
“We don’t possess the truth, we need the truth of the other.” …Bishop Pierre Claverie, French Dominican Bishop killed by fundamentalist Muslims in Algeria
Lord, lead to us to the blessedness of looking at others with compassion and then experiencing their compassion for us.
“Whether it is the surface of Scripture or the natural form of nature, both serve to clothe Christ, two veils that mask the radiance of his faith, while at the same time reflecting his beauty.“ …John Scotus Eriugena
Lord, free your Church from all that takes away our purity of heart and clouds our vision
– focusing on showing that we are superior to others;
– trying to be popular with our contemporaries;
– being concerned with increasing our numbers.
Lord, lead us to purity of heart so that we may see you at work
in every person and every situation,
“Once you have rid yourself of the fear of the oppressor, his prisons, his police, his army, there is nothing they can do to you. You are free.” …Nelson Mandela
Lord, we thank you for peace makers; they are truly your sons and daughters,
“Truth must be protected at all costs but by dying for it, not by killing others.”...Lactantius, 4th century
Lord, forgive us that we are afraid of being abused and persecuted and having calumny spoken against us.
Help us rather to rejoice and be glad when these things happen to us, and to know that we will have a great reward
and that this is how they persecuted the prophets before us.
Liturgical Resources for the Year of Matthew
1. Today’s section of Matthew is so often used in the liturgy (e.g. at funerals) that it has become hackneyed: it flows over most heads without making any impression; it just sounds lovely and we are in favour of it. However, whenever a politician, a manager or a trade union official, or a bishop is reminded of the way of meekness, it quickly becomes clear that this is not seen as a manner in which one can get things done! Few texts in the gospels elicit such a paradox: suppliant, virtually uncritical acceptance at the notional level and intellectually; coupled with almost total disbelief and outright rejection at the existential level and in action. One task of preaching this good news (is it really such for us?) is to try to explore this paradox.
2. However, if the Beatitudes cause such difficulties in perception, there is the fact that the Spirit moving in the hearts of the faithful continues to bring forth the very fruits mentioned in this gospel.
3. So in the community are there groups concerned with:
• Mt 5:3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’; i.e. those working for the practical alleviation of poverty in the local area (e.g. the St Vincent de Paul Society)? Is there a group dealing with global poverty or poverty as a matter of faith and justice (e.g. fair trade for the Third World)?
• Mt 5:4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted’; i.e. a group working with the bereaved?
• Mt 5:5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’; i.e. people concerned with the earth and its resources (e.g. environmental action groups)?
• Mt 5:6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied’; i.e. groups working for those who are unjustly treated in our society (e.g. immigrant workers, the homeless, other disadvantaged groups)?
• Mt 5:7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy‘ and Mt 5:8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’; i.e. groups who engage in the activities linked to specific spiritualities (e.g. prayer groups, reflection groups, those working for ecumenical understanding, groups working for particular developments in the church)?
• Mt 5:9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God‘; those who work for peace in the world (e.g. on the one hand this could be an anti-war movement, or the other it could be those who have taken part in peace-keeping with the armed forces, or those who have worked for reconciliation in divided societies)?
4. The task would be to use today to let these groups be seen by the whole community and so become aware of what they are doing, could do, and could do better if they thought of themselves as different limbs of the body of Christ.
5. Some of these groups may very readily identify themselves, and be recognised by others, as linked to the church’s agenda to build the kingdom (e.g. a prayer group). But others might be quite surprised to have their work so considered (e.g. someone working on concerns about the environment who may be one of those who think that Christianity is either silent or antagonistic to such concerns). The again, some will be surprised that some work of another group should be placed in the same camp of legitimate concerns as their own. For example, sociologists note that there is a high correlation between those who attend religious ceremonies regularly and social conservatism. Therefore, sociologists are not surprised that many congregations are non-welcoming to strangers or have a high proportion of those who feel ‘foreigners should not get our jobs‘. So having some people from the social justice groups seen as part of the Lord’s kingdom building exercise may be rather discomforting to some. Such discomfort is part of the kerygma.
6. Rather than preach, organise it that these various groups and it is the glory of the Spirit that there will always be more than one already knows – to ‘show-case‘ their work briefly, and invite them to consider how they can see themselves as parts of the Lord’s ‘project.’
Journeying through the year of Matthew
One of my friends was born blind. Consequently, he is unable to marvel at the colours of the rainbow. He is incapable of appreciating the subtle differences between the various shades of green in the garden shrubs and trees. He cannot enjoy the beauty of the stained glass windows in his local church as the sunlight shines through them. In short, he cannot see the beauty of God’s creation.
However, my blind friend’s other senses — hearing, speech, touch and smell — are exceptionally alert and they help him to compensate for his blindness by enabling him to experience and appreciate his surroundings in different ways. Yet he seems to be disadvantaged when compared to most other people because, unlike them, he cannot see with his eyes. He lives in a world of darkness and during this life he will never truly understand what it is to see and to be guided by light.
Thankfully, although physically blind, my friend has learned to ‘see’ in other ways. He believes in God and, for him as it must be for all of us, believing is seeing. It is often said that ‘seeing is believing’. Nevertheless, it is faith that brings true sight and, from the perspective of faith, ‘believing is seeing’. My friend has seen God in many areas of his life without depending on his eyes and, having experienced God’s love, he believes in God’s goodness and providential care. True sight, then, is really insight.
Sadly, there has always been physical blindness in our world. But physical blindness is not the only type of blindness that affects people, nor is it the most damaging. A far more harmful blindness is the spiritual blindness that results from sin. This spiritual blindness is evident in the lives of people who are confused or lost, often having no moral guidance.
Unlike physical blindness, spiritual blindness occurs when people either refuse or are unable to accept Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life. The well known proverb is appropriate: ‘There is none so blind as those who will not see!’ Here, the phrase ‘those who will not’ means ‘those who do not wish to’ or ‘those who refuse to’.
Unfortunately, many of us are spiritually blind without realising it. We need to learn that in recognising our personal sinfulness our spiritual blindness begins to be healed. Jesus brings healing from sin into our lives through his Church and the sacraments, especially the sacrament of reconciliation. When we celebrate this sacrament with the proper disposition we meet the risen Lord who heals us and gives us life. Believing is seeing.
Although my friend lives in constant darkness, he has many opportunities to see as a result of his faith. Ironically, many of us who can see clearly with our eyes are increasingly blind to God’s presence around us because of our lack of faith and our sin. We are being challenged to invite Jesus to heal our spiritual blindness so that we may share his insight. Then our witness to the Good News will lead us to dispel the spiritual darkness in our world. God has chosen each one of us to reveal his love to the world. First of all, however, we need to believe in God so that, like my friend who is blind, believing we may see.
The blind man went off and washed himself,
and came away with his sight restored. (Jn 9:7)
Donal Neary SJ:
Gospel Reflections for Sundays of Year A: Matthew
Day- to- day Compassion
Today’s gospel is described by Pope Francis: ‘This is the new law, the one we call the “ the Beatitudes.”It’s the Lord’s new law for us’ (February 2016). It highlights attitudes of the heart rather than just a set of rules to be followed.
We do not stay just with the words of Jesus. His life and teaching was a commentary on this sermon. Jesus invites us to watch how the sermon is lived out in his life. All the qualities – being poor in the spirit, able to mourn our losses and work for peace – are qualities of the human person. This is how we know our need for God, our need for each other. Even in his risen life he was the humble one who could listen to the doubts of his disciples and guide them to further faith, each in his or her own way.
The church is called to live these qualities, which lead us to the compassion of Jesus and to bring compassion in our lives. Compassion and understanding come from listening deeply to others, especially their joys and sorrows.
Compassion also grows in prayer – by asking for it, and by watching the compassion of Jesus in his life.
Someone working with young people once said that ‘an ounce of compassion is worth a ton of exhortation.’ Marriage, friendship and family life are all enriched by the quality of compassionate listening.
Some time today notice now you are feeling:
share that with Jesus in prayer.
Notice too how these feelings affect
how yow you are with others during the day.
Thank you, Lord, for your compassion for me in all times of my life.