Saturday, January 29, 2011

4th Sunday Year A (Gospel Matthew 5:1-12) Blessed are the poor in spirit

All of us are well used to going to specialists for this and that.  If you go to your doctor and there is something he or she is concerned about, you will inevitably be passed on to someone who has more expertise, because we are always trying to find the answer.  It’s great that we do have so much expert knowledge.

When it comes to spiritual knowledge we have many of the great world teachers: the Buddha, Gandhi, Mohammed, and others.  Jesus is often put into this category of wise teachers.  But for us there is one fundamental difference and that is that he is not just another human teacher, even if a very brilliant one.  We believe he really is Son of God.  God who walked among us in the person of Jesus and taught us about himself.  The same God who is present to us in the Eucharist in each mass.  That means that for us there is nothing more important that we can listen to than what Jesus taught, because this is God speaking to us.  If he wasn’t God then we could just as easily listen to any other wise teacher.

In today’s readings we have the Beatitudes, which are the beginning of what is known as the Sermon on the Mount.  The Sermon on the Mount is really the very heart of all that Jesus was teaching his disciples and is teaching us today.  The first two lines of the Gospel which just seem like lines of introduction actually say something quite important.  It says that Jesus 'sat down' to teach.  For a Jewish Rabbi to sit down and teach was to give his official and most important teaching.  In another translation it also says 'then he opened his mouth' and began to teach.  This was also an ancient way of saying that what he was about to say was all important.  And finally, the original Greek says that ‘this is what he was  continually teaching them’.  So what follows is both the ongoing teaching of Jesus, and also the most important thing that he taught his followers.  This is the very heart or core of the teaching of Christ.

I only want to comment on the very first line of the beatitudes which says:
‘How happy (or blessed) are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’  

The word ‘poor’ here actually refers to the destitute poor; those who have absolutely nothing.  Jesus is not saying that it is good that they are poor, rather they have happiness if they recognise their own helplessness and rely on God for everything.  That is the key part, and in fact it applies to all of us.  The key thing is that we realise that it is only in God that we find everything.  If we come to know this, then nothing, not even destitute poverty, can take from our happiness, because God is our security and nothing and no one can take that from us.  The reason why the poorest of the poor are ‘blessed’ in this sense, is because they will be much more aware of how much they need God than anyone else, because they have nothing else.  As you know it is often only when we are in dire straits that we turn to God.  But if we live in a constant state of helplessness then we will be totally aware that only in God can we find happiness and that is the key to coming closer to God.

In modern English it might say, 'O the happiness of the person who has realized his own utter helplessness and who has put his whole trust In God, for only this way can he render to God that perfect obedience which will make him a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.'

All of the Beatitudes are essentially pointing to the same thing: that in God is our complete fulfillment.  Therefore if we realise this, no suffering on earth can take from it.  Knowing this gives us a 'happiness' or 'blessedness' unlike earthly happiness which comes and goes.  But this happiness is permanent and untouchable.  What God offers us does not pass and will not fade, because only God is permanent and no suffering in this life can take God from us .

Blessed are the poor in spirit. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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