Reflection on the readings for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, January 29, 2017
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Let me start by saying that I am not here to give you “alternative facts;” I am here to give you the Gospel truth.
How do you become a success? According to the standards of the world success is measured by your wealth and the power or prestige you enjoy. Some people preach the “Prosperity Gospel.” This view of the gospel says that when everything is going well for you, when you have good financial and physical health it is obvious that you are favored by God.
The prosperity gospel and the way the world measures success would be completely foreign to the gospel Jesus preached. All of the readings that we are given today tell us the real way of measuring success – God’s way.
The prophet Zephaniah preached at a time in the history of the people of God when things were not going well. The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen and the southern kingdom of Judea was about to fall. The faith life of the people and the political choices they were making was the direct cause of their defeat.
Zephaniah gives the people warnings and promises. The warning in today’s reading says: “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth…seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.” In other words, turn back to God before it is too late.
The prophet then gives a promise. “I will leave a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly.” In the Old Testament we are told that no matter what happens to the nation there will always be a remnant faithful to God and from these he will once again build up his people. Then the prophet describes the characteristics of the remnant. “They shall do no wrong and speak no lies; nor shall there be found in their mouths a deceitful tongue”. God’s way to success is opening up for us.
St. Paul continues in the same vain by telling us that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something so that no human being might boast before God.” Remember that Jesus told us to enter his kingdom by the narrow gate. Many of those who as Paul suggests “are something” are really something in their own mind. They need to be careful – their heads might be too big to get through the narrow gate!
So far to become successful in the eyes of God we must be lowly, always seeking humility and justice, and always speaking the truth.
As we turn to the gospel we hear the familiar words of the Beatitudes. The wonderful words of Jesus are the marching orders of the faithful Christian. Jesus is saying to us if you want to be happy in this life and in the life to come live out these principles in your everyday life.
“Blessed (happy) are the poor in spirit…” You do not have to be in poverty to be poor in spirit. People who are poor in spirit know the proper place of “things” in our life. Material possessions cannot make us happy. If they could why do we keep getting more and more stuff? Those who are poor in spirit always have their eyes opened to the needs of others and if they see a need they are willing to give up what they have to help.
“Blessed (happy) are those who mourn...” We all have things to mourn about in our lives. It might be a death in the family, a lost job, a relationship that goes wrong. Certainly we want others to comfort us in difficult times, but what about the times things are going great for us. Jesus is telling us to open our eyes to the suffering of others. Do we mourn for the person who dies in a car accident today? Do we mourn for those who shot to death on our streets? Do we mourn for those who are caught in war torn areas of the world? Do we show the compassion of the Lord when we see these tragedies unfold? Do we do anything to help? Remember a characteristic of a successful person in God’s eyes is one who seeks justice and seeks to relieve suffering.
“Blessed (happy) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (justice)…” The blessed or happy persons, in the eyes of God, are those who have their eyes open to the injustice in our world and when they see it they take action. As disciple of the Lord we should always be ready to help the poor, to work against discrimination, to be a voice for the voiceless.
“Blessed (happy) are the merciful…” Pope John XIII said: “See everything; judge little; forgive much.” How merciful are we toward others? Do we forgive others or do we hold grudges? How compassionate are we? What about those who would like to come to our country just to be able to live and raise their families in peace? What about those who helped our military and are now in danger? What is our attitude when some in authority in our country want to take the natural resources of another country just because we can? What do we think about when we hear over and over “America First?” Do we understand that the constant teaching of Jesus is that God must be first and our neighbor must be second? God gave us so much as a country not to keep it all to ourselves but to share with those in need – here and abroad. With much blessing comes much responsibility. We are reminded by St. Matthew (Mt 25: 31-46) that at the end of our lives, when we stand in judgment, we will not be asked about our sins (because if we are smart we will have already repented of our sins). We will be asked how we loved God above all things and how we loved our neighbor as ourselves.
“Blessed (happy) are the peacemakers…” How are we at peace making? In our homes, our work places or any place we find ourselves do we strive to get along with others? Are we always critical of others? Are we always ready to stir the pot? Jesus isn’t telling us to have peace at any price but he is telling us that when there are problems, the successful person in the eyes of God, is always ready to listen and be charitable toward those with whom they disagree.
“Blessed (happy) are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness (justice)…” The way of Jesus is not an easy way of life – his life cost him the cross. When we stand up for our sisters and brothers we may have to suffer the scorn of those who do not know Jesus. We need to realize that is part of our cross – remember Jesus always ask us to follow him.
When we try to make humility, justice, peace, truthfulness, and compassion part of our lives we become a success in the eyes of God. We will also hopefully realize the truth with which Jesus concluded the Beatitudes: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
Our call from the Lord is to follow him. None of us is perfect but I might suggest that we get up every day and ask for the grace to follow the Lord better than we did yesterday – the true measure of success.
~by Fr. Bill Kramer