Being special has its privileges and of course its invitations to respond. Israel was given the dignity of being God’s chosen and the prophets had to call continually to Her to keep Her mindful and heartful of God’s choice and Her forgetfulness.
Today we hear the prophet Zephaniah speaking firstly to the people of Israel in general. There is hope for them against the day that the God, Who called them, would come and exile them in anger. The first verse reminds them to seek the Lord in humility and a personal sense of poverty. This poverty is not financial, but a more honest appreciation of the basic human standing before God.
The final two verses are directed specifically towards the religious leaders in Jerusalem. These men have strayed from their humbly and justly serving God’s people. The prophet foretells of a “remnant” of God’s people who will speak truthfully, act justly, and be the new people of Israel. They will be different from their former leaders by remembering who they are in God’s eyes.
We hear today of the new ways of Jesus. He is seated with His disciples and a large crowd gathered to listen to this newcomer. Matthew puts Jesus on a mountain, like Moses who went up a mountain to receive God’s Commandments. We call the beginning of this Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. They are positive and not meant to frighten, but enlighten. They have a promise attached to them which is inviting in a sense, but which takes faith and patience for which to wait.
This weekend, here in the “Excited” States of America, we are celebrating a cultural festival of sorts. We have the end of football season, which for some is a celebration in itself. The championship game will be played in New Orleans, Louisiana. Millions around the country and the world will watch these two teams enjoy pushing and pulling, smashing and gashing, smackling and tackling each other. I have decided to interrupt the game, right in the middle of the muscular struggling and read today’s Gospel to the crowd, the people on the field and those watching at home.
I am going to do this, because it was to just a similar crowd that Jesus spoke and He got the same kind of reception that I plan on getting before they drag me off. These were and remain very strange and always new planks in the platform of Jesus’ movement, which we call Christianity. I would imagine that as various persons heard these, one after another, one after another slipped off in disbelief, disappointment, and disagreement. Jesus was calling to a little “remnant” and so we are. So as I speak these at the “big game” I suspect that I will be booed, have things thrown at me, and have people shouting all kinds of insults at me. So for you the readers at least listen to what I am going to say and to whom.
To the people seated in the Luxury Boxes and those seated in the expensive chairs near the middle of the field, I will declare boldly, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I might shout it two or three times and won’t that get their attention. I will be standing at midfield during the introductions. If they ask me what I mean I will ask them if they have shared their gifts with those who can not play in this game or their games. Have they gotten into those positions by stepping on the truly poor. Don’t worry just yet, they are too comfortable to get out of their places and come after me.
I then am going to go right up to the biggest players with all their muscles bulging and their anger just about to burst against their opponents and merely invite them to believe that, “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” They will be grappling for valuable feet and yards through their violent blockings. They will laugh at me, I am sure.
Before they can catch me I will remind them and all onlookers that the proud and powerful also grapple and trample for feet and yards, but need their power to retain, protect and defend that which God has given to all. They won’t like to hear me say that. I am fast and so I move on.
To the contesting coaches I will remind them that, “Blessed are the merciful..” as they chastise their failful warriors. I will run over to the slightly-clad female cheerleaders and remind them that, “Blessed are the clean of heart…”, they will give me dirty looks for sure. I will even go up to the referees and remind them that “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” I think they will like hearing that and even more when I remind them that, “blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I will begin telling them about how good it is to be insulted because of Jesus when I expect to be tackled myself. I will hear the words which end today’s Gospel then, “rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
The reactions to my little interruptions will be similar to those which Jesus got from His first listeners and continued getting from those whom He continued to invite. Their might be some who cheer for me and my message as they drag me away, but not many. Jesus got just about that much response as well.
Now I am not real sure I am going to do all this, but tune in just in case and if not, read this Gospel again and listen to your own response and your resistance.
“Let your face shine on your servant, and save me by your love.
Lord, keep me from shame, for I have called to you.” Ps.
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