Readings, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

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Sunday, 29 January 2023

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Readings and Antiphons on p. 320 of the Sunday Missal and p. 773 of the Daily Missal.

Entrance Antiphon.

Save us, O Lord God! And gather us from the nations, to give thanks to your holy name, and make it our glory to praise you.

First Reading: Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah.

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, 
who do his commands; 
seek righteousness, seek humility; 
perhaps you may be hidden 
on the day of the wrath of the Lord. 

“For I will leave in the midst of you 
a people humble and lowly. 
They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord
those who are left in Israel; 
they shall do no wrong 
and utter no lies, 
nor shall there be found in their mouth 
a deceitful tongue. 
For they shall pasture and lie down, 
and none shall make them afraid.”

The Word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 146:7.8-9a.9bc-10 (R. Matthew 5:3 )

Let us now pray the Responsorial Psalm:

R/. Blessed are the poor in spirit,
         for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

It is the Lord who preserves fidelity forever,
who does justice to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry,
the Lord who sets prisoners free.

It is the Lord who opens the eyes of the blind,
the Lord who raises up those who are bowed down.
It is the Lord who loves the just,
the Lord who protects the stranger

It is the Lord who upholds the orphan and the widow,
but thwarts the path of the wicked.
The Lord will reign forever,
the God of Sion from age to age.

R/. Blessed are the poor in spirit,
         for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Cornithians.

For consider your call, brothers and sisters; 
not many of you were wise according to the flesh, 
not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; 
but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, 
God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, 
God chose what is low and despised in the world, 
even things that are not, 
to bring to nothing things that are, 
so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 
He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, 
whom God made our wisdom, 
our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; 
therefore, as it is written, 
“Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.”

The work of the Lord.

Please stand for the Gospel.

Alleluia, Alleluia.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
Alleluia.

Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12a

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew.

At that time:
Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the mountain; 
and when he sat down his disciples came to him. 
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“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 meek, 
for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 
for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, 
for they shall obtain mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, 
for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, 
for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, 
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you 
and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 
Rejoice and be glad, 
for your reward is great in heaven.” 

The Gospel of the Lord.

Communion Antiphon.

Let your face shine on your servant. Save me in your merciful love. O Lord, let me not be put to shame, for I call on you.

Homily

Even the most devoted couple will experience a “stormy” bout once in a while. A grandmother, celebrating her golden wedding anniversary, once told the secret of her long and happy marriage. “On my wedding day, I decided to make a list of ten of my husband’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook,” she said. Her granddaughter asked her what some of the faults she had chosen to overlook were. The grandmother replied, “To tell you the truth, my dear, I never did get around to listing them. But whenever my husband did something that made me hopping mad, I would say to myself, ‘Lucky for him that’s one of the ten!'”

Today, the words of the Beatitudes invite us to a new way of life, and to acknowledge God as the source of meaning in our lives. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” These familiar words are the first of the nine Beatitudes proclaimed to us in today’s gospel. But even if we are not regular Bible readers, we have heard and seen the Beatitudes many times. They are posted at the entrances of churches, religious institutions, schools, hospitals and featured on memorial cards for our dead. They are even quoted on talk shows in discussions on the world’s wars and disasters, “Blessed are the peacemakers… Blessed are the merciful…” Etc.

Some people hear the Beatitudes as a New Testament revision of the Ten Commandments. They think that these are the ways we must behave to please God. But they are not commandments. In the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, they are Wisdom sayings. They invite us to take a second look at our world and its values and choose instead God’s ways which Jesus announces to us.

Many people undervalue the word “blessed.” Some people think that being blessed is some good thing that occurs after having done something on the list, a bit like a spiritual tombola game where one receives a small prize for having hit a target. Being blessed, though, is more than just some good thing happening to us, it is a state of being. The Aramaic word Jesus may have used – toowayhon – conveys a much deeper sense that we are enriched by God’s providence and grace. It suggests that we are spiritually fortunate and prosperous, blissful, delighted, and content. One commentator notes that the word toowayhon includes the idea that blessed persons “enjoy union and communion with God.”

Society is ruled by those in power, high standing, and who have all that which some people would call “blessings.” The implication is that to have much is a sign of God’s favour. Their understanding of God is that God rewards good behaviour and that the positive signs of my life indicate that God is pleased with me. That’s the reasoning of the world. But the wisdom Jesus shares with us in the Beatitudes is that God chooses to be on the side of those whose lives don’t show the expected signs of God’s favour: the weak and forgotten, those who seek justice, and who are persecuted for their beliefs. In other words, in God’s realm, the undervalued are worth much – worth Jesus giving his life for them.

The Beatitudes are not entrance requirements to the kingdom, they are not commandments for proper behaviour. They are not just a call to action, but they are promises. They show where and how God is present and acting in our lives. In biblical language, the Beatitudes are “eschatological,” i.e., they are present promises to oppressed people that point to the future – a future that is in God’s hands.

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the mountain; and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. Jesus is teaching the Beatitudes to his disciples. He wants his disciples to relate back to the promises and prophetic utterances of the Hebrew Scriptures. In that way, they will better understand their present situation. The Gospel notes that Jesus goes up a mountain to speak to his disciples. We see the parallel with Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the commandments from God in the book of Exodus. (Exodus 19; 24; 34). The Beatitudes also contain many indirect quotations from Isaiah. These beatitudes echo Isaiah 61:1-2: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

To be “Blessed” is not simply to be “happy,” To be ‘Blessed’ is to know that we are already included in the kingdom that Jesus has come to announce. The Beatitudes invite us to a new way of life and to acknowledge God as the source of meaning in our lives. 

Jesus himself embodies the Beatitudes, as seen through his words and actions that turned the standards of our world upside down. He passes on the Wisdom that is his Spirit to us, and by that Spirit, we become his followers and can learn from him and follow his way of life. Along the way, as “Beatitude People”, we may falter and fail, but from the One who is meekness and mercy himself, Jesus Christ, we receive forgiveness and strength to keep on striving to live his Beatitudes. We are not discouraged, for Paul reminds us that God chose the foolish and the weak (1 Cor 1:27). This described those disciples who sat close to Jesus on the Mount, and we are with them today, and we are being given the Spirit of wisdom, and that way, we become “beatitude people.”The Beatitudes, found in Matthew 5, 6, and 7, begin Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. These blessings, given by Jesus, are not a set of commandments on how to please God, but rather God’s initiative to bless those who do not usually feel blessed and to give a vision for what those awaiting Christ’s return can expect.

The rest of the Sermon on the Mount spells out the necessary instructions for living out the virtues described in the blessings. The Beatitudes are a message of confidence and hope for all who suffer and are oppressed, who have no hope and nothing to expect in their lives. Someone I know, who has had terrible disappointments in her family, often says “It is, what it is.” But the Beatitudes stand against such resignation. My friend’s words might offer her some consolation, but they lack the hope that God can bring about change. In Jesus, God was offering a whole new start, a beginning that can only come from God. If we hear Jesus’ announcement that God is doing something new, then we can’t close the door on God. “It isn’t what it is – but what it will be.”

From today’s Gospel reading:

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. 

Reflection:

People of faith, inspired by the Beatitudes, have a different way of looking at life. Living our “beatitude calling” is difficult, but we know God stands with us and, in our daily lives, help us put flesh on the Beatitudes. Even as we try, stumble and try again to live the Beatitudes, we hear Jesus’ reassurance, “You are already blessed.”

So we ask ourselves: 

  • What touched me in the readings today?
  • Concretely how do we experience the opposition of others because of our faith?
  • What gives us strength to continue to live out that faith despite the obstacles we face? 
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