Reflection For The 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
Have you ever heard that someone emerged from nowhere and suddenly turned out to become a famous or influential person? The truth is that nobody comes from nowhere; God makes people. The apostle Peter said that God could transform a person from nobody to somebody (1 Peter 2:10). What is important in life is not your background but your destination. So don’t conclude on anyone; God can even raise the dead to life!
Who are the Remnants?
In the First Reading from the Prophecy of Zephaniah (2:3; 3:12-13), the prophet talks about the day of the Lord’s anger that would come upon everyone because of sin. However, he gives hope as God would leave a remnant who shall take refuge in the Lord. But to qualify as a remnant, the oracle recommends: “Seek the Lord…seek justice (righteousness), seek humility”.
Therefore, from the prophecy of Zephaniah, the remnants are lowly and humble; in other words, they are poor and insignificant folks who depend solely on God. The passage says they take refuge in the Lord.
The Beatitude of the Remnants
In the Gospel Reading (Matthew 5:1-12a), we encounter one of the sets of sermons on the mount, the “Beatitudes.” The references in the narrative, for instance, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the hungry and thirsty, and the persecuted and insulted, relate to the lowly remnants in the prophecy of Zephaniah.
In the Old Testament, an individual’s blessings are measured by material possessions. You are blessed according to the soundness of your health and abundance of crops, animals, children, and servants. On the other hand, one is considered cursed if the reverse is the case. The book of Deuteronomy (28) gives us an exhaustive list of material blessings and curses for those who obey or disobey God.
In the New Testament, however, Jesus did not preach material prosperity but the values of the kingdom of God. He even asked, “what shall it profit anyone to have gained the whole world but suffer the loss of one’s soul? (Mark 8:36).
Rereading the Beatitudes
The Beatitudes are not expressions of earthly gains but kingdom rewards for the remnants who trust in God. But, rereading those lines, one wonders if the people understood that Jesus was not referring to earthly blessings as that was the prevailing barometer for divine favors.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: This has nothing to do with material poverty, as some may think. To be poor is to be inadequate. Now the poor in spirit find themselves inadequate, using God as a measuring standard, and so, they find fulfillment only in God. That is why the kingdom of God will be theirs.
Blessed are they who mourn: Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with those grieving the loss of loved ones. Jesus was referring to those who are sorrowful and broken because of their sins. The Scriptures tell us about people mourning for their sins, like David (Psalm 51) or the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-9). The comfort they get refers to the forgiveness they will receive for their sorrow and repentance from sin.
Blessed are the meek: They are always gentle, yielding, and submissive, which is why they are often mistaken to be weak. Meekness is when humility steps out to others. Jesus is a perfect blend of meekness and humility (Matt.11:29). The meek inheriting the land means they will receive earthly favors.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness: This is one of the most self-explanatory among the Beatitudes. It simply means that those who desire to do the right things before God would find satisfaction in their well-ordered actions.
Blessed are the merciful: Being merciful is a productive imitation of God because the Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love (Psalm 103:8). The Merciful will receive mercy because, in life, you receive what you give.
Blessed are the clean (pure) of heart: What matters to God is our heart, not our material conditions. In another place, Jesus taught that not what goes into a person defiles the individual but what comes from the heart (Matt. 15:17-18). Recall that Proverbs (4:23) says to guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Purity gives access to God; that is why the clean of heart will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: Peace is a kingdom value. Recall that one of the prophecies about the Messiah calls him the prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6), so it is not surprising that peace comes as one of the Beatitudes. Peacemakers bring God’s reconciliatory presence to others in every situation, so they qualify as children of God.
Blessed are those persecuted (insulted) for the sake of righteousness: Jesus explained this section more because it involved the risk of losing one’s life. After all, the extreme point of persecution is death. The last Beatitude prefigured the arrest, passion, and death of Jesus Christ, as well as the experience of his followers in the early church. Note that it is not enough to be persecuted and insulted; it must be on account of righteousness and Jesus Christ.
Moving Forwards: The Key to Living the Beatitudes
It will be fitting to say at this point that the Beatitudes summarize the life and mission of our Lord Jesus Christ and the remnants who commit to the Christian life. One word that captures the Eight Beatitudes is detachment; detachment from self and worldly gains is the key to eternal happiness or blessedness.
St. Paul would say, “I count everything as loss for the supreme value of knowing Jesus Christ, my Lord.” (Phil.3:8) The truly blessed person is not the materially rich or wealthy but one who holds unto God no matter the situation; that is the remnant. Blessed is not a name; it is an attitude of being a Christian, and that is why we call them the “be-attitudes.”
God bless you!