Readings: Zeph 2:3,3:12-13. 1Cor 1:26-31 Matt 5:1-12
All three readings give the same message, one that is fundamental to the Gospel. When Jesus says: ‘Repent’, he does not seem to be asking us to regret our past sins and change our moral behaviour so much as to change our mind-set, our values, the way we see God, people and all of creation. The values of ‘the kingdom’ are not those of ‘the world’ – these are turned upside down. We are called to see things with the mind of Christ, to see as God sees.
The reading from Zephaniah is addressed to ‘the humble of the earth’, and the Lord promises: ‘I will leave in your midst a humble and lowly people’. They will have peace.
Paul reminds the Corinthians that when the Gospel was preached to them, it was not the high and mighty but the low and powerless who were called and responded. They were the ‘foolish’, the weak, the despised.
In the gospel reading, Jesus, as the new Moses, gives his people the new ‘law’ of the kingdom of God – not a list of moral prohibitions but an ideal that demands a radical re-think of our perspective and values. The beatitudes challenge us to see things from a different perspective, which turns the generally-accepted view of the world and its values upside down. This is difficult for us because it challenges our basic assumptions which is always hard to accept.
In the very earliest centuries of the Church, the christian community was marginalised, despised and frequently persecuted. Perhaps it was comparatively easy for them to be ‘a humble and lowly people’. At the start of the fourth century, under Constantine, christianity became the official, ‘established’ religion of the Empire. Unfortunately, instead of being the leaven to transform society, the Church adopted not only the power structures of the Empire but also the values which underpinned them, embracing wealth, power and control. This set a pattern for most of its history since then. Over the centuries there were saints who, in a special way, exemplified and witnessed to the values of the Beatitudes – notably St. Francis of Assisi.
Now Pope Francis has set himself the daunting task of ‘converting’ the Church – that is, all of us – by turning us around to see things from the perspective of the ‘Kingdom’, which is the perspective of the poor in spirit, the marginalised, the oppressed. Just recently, we had put before us quite dramatically the two sets of values, those of the Gospel and those of ‘the world’. At the inauguration of President Trump, one of the christian leaders chose to read the Beatitudes. This was followed by the inaugural address which eloquently expressed, in extreme form, the values of wealth, power, control, dominance, superiority..
These values are so all-pervasive, so taken for granted, in our society that it takes divine help to renounce them. Zephaniah tells us it is the Lord who leaves a ‘lowly and humble people’. Paul reminds us that we can never have anything to boast of unless it be what God has done for us in making us ‘members of Christ Jesus’, who has himself become ‘our wisdom, our virtue, our holiness, our freedom’. His is the light in which we see things. Of ourselves we have nothing. Accepting and acknowledging that is part of being ‘poor in spirit’.
Sr. Genevieve Mooney OP