Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A-2011

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk (Is. 55:1—NAB)

There have been days of seething anger against enemies—real or imagined—of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Some of those who feel aggrieved indicate that they are not going to take lying down the infringement of any of their rights. They carry signs in public that read, “Don’t tread on me,” “It’s time to water the tree of liberty,” “We’re as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore,” “Rise up – Reload – Revolt,” or, “Clinging to my God, my guns, my money.” They bear loaded firearms at public meetings, serving thus an unequivocal notice to their opponents—whom they demonize and compare to Hitler and the Nazis—of their readiness to resist vehemently and even violently. They make no bones about putting their opponents in a crosshairs map and identifying them as plain targets.

I doubt that Jesus would not want us to cling to our God, if not necessarily to my God. But money and arms appear to me to be another matter. In preaching repentance in view of the kingdom of heaven being at hand, Jesus turns things upside down with regard to money and arms and declares fortunate those the world deems unfortunate. He does so while he teaches in the manner of Moses and the scribes, though he is surely greater than them (Mt. 7:29; Jn. 1:45; 5:46).

Jesus thus congratulates the poor. He teaches, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Admittedly, “in spirit” makes clear that the poverty in question has a religious, and not merely an economic, meaning or dimension that goes back to such Old Testament prophecies such as Zephaniah’s about the remnant of Israel, made up of the humble and the lowly [1]. But both “poor,” simply, and “poor in spirit” refer to “the depressed classes of the ancient world, those who have no material possessions and enjoy no esteem or reputation” [2]. These are the same ones who mourn and who are hungry and thirsty materially and spiritually [3].

So also, Jesus congratulates the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers and those who endure persecution for the sake of righteousness. These are ordinarily the humble, who are not easily provoked to anger (Ps. 37); they are the lowly, the oppressed, who wholly depend on God and do not try to force God’s hand in their time but patiently and humbly wait for it; they are those who do not have power or arms to rely on, and so commend themselves totally to God’s power and grace, being so clean in heart that, unlike the arrogant, they recognize God to be their only hope (Ps. 73) [4]. And far be it from them to put God to the test, exploiting or abusing their connection with him to score an unnecessary point or thinking they have him figured out, since they do not at all presume on him belonging to them or on him being their God (cf. Mt. 4:7; Dt. 6:16) [5].

Such call of Jesus for total commitment to the kingdom of heaven and radical dependence on God, for meekness and non-retaliation, is undoubtedly shocking—except, perhaps, for those who have taken some exceptions to it and have found ways to justify them. But then exceptions and justifications only establish the shocking character of Jesus’ summons. And it cannot be otherwise really. After all, the good news he brings to the poor is only as shocking, nay, scandalous, as his being crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), his personifying to the utmost the beatitudes, his exemplifying every virtue (Mt. 27:46; Lk. 23:34, 43, 46; Jn. 19:26-28, 30) [6].

Yet to those who are called, those the world considers foolish, weak, lowly, despised and count for nothing, Christ, along with his message, is the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). And blessed are those who are called to partake of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world and who offers grace and hope to everyone, including those seething with anger.


NOTES:

[1] Cf. InterVarsity Press Commentary at http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Matt/Kingdom-Rewards-Repentant (accessed January 29, 2011) and The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1990) 42:24.
[1] John L. McKenzie, “Beatitude,” Dictionary of the Bible (Milwaukee, WI: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1965) 84.
[3] Cf. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary.
[4] InterVarsity Press Commentary.
[5] InterVarsity Press Commentary at http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Matt/Gods-Son-Passes-Test (accessed January 29, 2011).
[6] Cf. a conference by St. Thomas Aquinas, which is the non-biblical reading in the Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours, for January 28, his memorial.