29 Jan 2017
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Jesus is a pretty radical teacher. He digs down deep to get at the root of things. That’s where he works: down in the roots. And he keeps those roots—the roots of our life—alive and growing by making sure they get enough light and fresh air. When Jesus opens his mouth and teaches, that’s what comes out: the Light of Truth and the Breath of the Holy Spirit.
And the effect, I suppose, is like when you take a hoe and turn over the dirt; everything gets jostled around and it looks messier than when you started. But that’s what you have to do make things grow. When Jesus teaches, he’s like that hoe which is both sharp and hard, and very necessary. Jesus is a pretty radical teacher.
One of his “lessons,” which we call the Beatitudes, is especially radical. Those eight teachings are really meant to upset the way the world thinks and believes. Of course, we’ve gotten used to them after a couple thousand years, and they tend to lose their edge. So let’s try another translation from the ancient Greek. How about this . . .
Enviable are those who are bent over and destitute in spirit; theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Enviable are those who mourn and lament; they will receive counsel and comfort. Enviable are those who are strong, but act with reserve; they will inherit the Kingdom. Enviable are those who ache for and desire God’s approval above all else; they will be satisfied. Enviable are those who are merciful; they will receive mercy in return.
Enviable are those who are undivided in mind and heart; they will see God as he is. Enviable are those who do what it takes to make peace; they will be called the image of God on earth. Enviable are those who are hunted down because they do what is right in God’s mind; theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Enviable are you when they curse you and hunt you down and, with a lying tongue, speak every evil against you because you have tried to be my disciple. Welcome all of this, jumping for joy! For you will be compensated richly in heaven. For, in just the same way, they hunted down the prophets who came before you.
These teachings of the Lord are hard, very hard. I mean, who wants to be destitute in spirit? Who enjoys mourning and lamenting what we’ve lost? Who wants to hold back and not live up to his or her potential? Who wants to be hunted down and have others “bear false witness against” us? And, yet, Jesus says that those who experience these things on account of their devotion to him are to be envied; those people are “blessed” and “lucky.”
It’s easy to see why those early Christians were regarded as a bunch of lunatics. Even for us, today, what Jesus says in the Beatitudes is still a little . . . strange. But maybe that’s because Jesus is a radical teacher; he’s getting at our roots. He’s getting at our understandings of how the world works and he’s saying, “No, this is how it’s supposed to be. Go this way.” Remember, this is the One who said, “I am the Way . . . Go this way.”
And the way he’s pushing us to go is the way of weakness. All the Beatitudes go back to the idea of weakness. After all, who are the weak? They’re the destitute; they’re those who are overcome by grief; those who hold back; those who think that popularity is less important than God’s approval. The weak are those who are merciful, instead of vengeful; who are a servant to God; who strive for peace and not for domination. The weak are those who are hunted down, who are beaten down by lies and hatred. The weak are those who imitate Christ; who let the opposition overtake him on the Cross.
Jesus is teaching us to take the path of weakness. And that is radically different than what we’re used to. After all, we’re not brought up to be weak; we’re brought up to be strong in all ways—in mind, body, and spirit. But Jesus says, “No, be weak. The weak are those to be envied. The weak are blessed.”
And they’re blessed because they receive the help of Almighty God; they receive God’s comfort and wisdom; they will be fulfilled by a satisfaction that can’t be found on earth; they will be treated with mercy and they will see God face-to-face. The prize that awaits the weak is God himself—today and forever. Whereas the prize that awaits the strong and the proud is whatever accolades they can win from other people; none of which lasts.
Jesus teaches us to take a more radical path. In a way, he wants us to be a bunch of lunatics, as far as others are concerned. And taking that path can seem a little too much, or even undesirable. But Christ expects that kind of reaction; after all, he didn’t come to help those who don’t need it, but those who do need help.
And so, he might ask, “What’s at least one area of life where you can let go and just let God take it over?” Is there an area of life where you’re trying to be too strong? Maybe it’s trying to overcome an addiction. Maybe it’s in trying to deal with a family situation by yourself. Maybe it’s in trying to be too much the disciplinarian at home that you forget to be merciful, too. Where do you need to be weaker in life, so that you can be stronger?
Jesus went up the side of the mountain and he taught, in so many words, “Blessed are the weak; blessed are those who suffer to follow me. How enviable and lucky they are!” It sounds a little strange but, you know, only those who try the path of weakness know if it’s true. Only those who are weak know if the Beatitudes are true.