We are praying with the dignity of being a “remnant” people as we prepare
for this weekend’s liturgy. This Sunday and next we will be praying with
the “New Teachings” of Jesus. Ten days before Lent begins we are offered
insights into just what the “kingdom” of God asks of us in terms of our being
converted from our own kingdoms.
We can pray to listen, to take in as much as we can and to pray with those
areas we would rather not have as elements of our lives.
We can pray also to shake off the familiarity of the Beatitudes and try to
hear a new call for us to enjoy being of these “attitudes”. We would like
to be humble, until of course we or others humble ourselves. We could pray
for the comfort of being one who mourns until we lose a close friend or family
member. Conversion is always our next step so we pray for self-patience.
We can find ourselves at times, worrying about the possibility that God is
angry with us or our world. In the Hebrew Scriptures God was, at times, pictured
as full of wrath and punishing plans for the people of Israel. We know anger
within ourselves and in others and so we can assume that God has flashes
of vengeance and fury.
In our First Reading today, the prophet Zephaniah has been warning the peoples
of a wrath to come from God. He then speaks what we hear, that those who
“seek the Lord” and “seek justice,” those who are humble and just perhaps
then they will avoid being dealt with like rebellious children.
We skip from there to the next chapter where the prophet speaks God’s word
of compassion. God will reserve, preserve or guard a “remnant” who will live
in the presence of all the others in a humble and lowly manner. They will
do what is right, tell and live no lies. They will be shepherded by God and
shepherd their flocks in peace with no one to bother them or be angry with
them. They will live as a reflection of God’s goodness and bring about that
goodness in the lives around them.
Jesus, in today’s Gospel is speaking to His disciples whom He wishes to form
into a remnant. Matthew pictures Jesus up on a mountain side presenting a
variation of the Ten Commandments. He is a Moses-like figure presenting the
proper way to live this human life.
These seven “commandments” are not laws, but invitations to the new followers
of Jesus. They are for those interested in how Jesus views just how the “holy
remnant” will live. These are not exactly revolutionary ideas or ideals.
They involve the elements of what individuals think of themselves and what
they think of others. Humans have an in-born desire to know what other people
think of them. There is this innate insecurity about who we are and how we
are. This is appropriate for us it seems. Jesus is asking His disciples and
us to depend also on what God thinks of us in Christ.
We have this phrase, “face-saving.” We want our faces to be saved from shame,
turning “red,” appearing confused. We can spend lots of time looking at or
for ourselves in the mirror. Jesus is telling His disciples that they will
look quite stunning, simply marvelous and in fact, “beatific” when they live
what He commands. The “remnant” is less concerned with saving their faces
than in preserving the face of God within the human body.
Our question then concerns how we will look when we are “poor in spirit”
or “meek,” or “clean of heart.” Like the early disciples, we will spend time
watching how Jesus walked this earth revealing a vision of the holiness of
God. The early disciples found this vision hard to see reflected in their
own faces. They too wondered at more than His miracles, but more at the conversion
His teachings were encouraging.
“THE FACE of HOLINESS”
“POOR in SPIRIT” - Those who are materially wealthy are known, at time, to
be “high brow.” Those who are “poor in spirit” are not low “brow,” but simple
in the reception of all God’s gifts. They know from where all things come
and what they are for. Their “brows” do not wrinkle in disappointment, but
often in amazement.
“THEY WHO MOURN” - The eyes do weep the “holy water” of faith in place of the
heart which keeps beating when we lose someone close to us. The eyes which
have been filled with the visions of loved persons fill with tears when those
visions are taken away. The holy ones weep because there has been love enough
to fill the longing-heart and the heart remains to long for the beyond to
which the beloved has returned. The eyes of faith do cry real tears of loss
“THE MEEK” - The “proud” are often pictured as having their “noses”
turned up or stuck up. The “meek” of the Gospel are strong and level-headed.
They have a nose for the truth and can smell fakery and are not afraid of
pointing it out. They do not “turn down their noses” when encountering the
poor, marginal, or distasteful. Their strength of simplicity is as plain
as the noses on their faces.
“HUNGER and THIRST for RIGHTEOUSNESS” - The mouth is where we satisfy hunger
and thirst for the body. The mouth expresses the hunger and thirst for justice
and the holy relationships which Jesus came to establish between all humankind.
What Jesus thirsted for on the cross was the reconciliation between God and
us. Jesus hungered after His temptations, but He hungered for His holy way
of living to be shared with His sisters and brothers. His “righteousness”
is not legal, that is being right by our own actions, but being right with
the person God as creator gave this world by our being of God’s love. The
mouth takes in and breathes out the holiness of Jesus’ ways.
“THE MERCIFUL” - “Out of the heart, the tongue speaks.” We are invited to have
hearts of forgiveness and to speak compassionately when we are offended.
Mercy is more than a feeling. It is a sense that as Jesus spoke the words of forgiveness from the cross
over us; our words resemble His from the crosses of our own harshness. Our
words tongue the very interiority of the Heart of Jesus.
“THE PEACEMAKERS” - Jesus spoke of “turning the other cheek” when slapped.
We talk of “taking one on the chin.” The face of holiness looks on violence,
disputes, and wars, but not passively. Making peace involves getting involved.
Violence can beget further violence, but the face of holiness can confront
wars and will get slapped as Jesus did and will take a few on the chin as
did the early martyrs. Making peace faces others with the insanity of war,
separation of brothers and sisters, as well as the sacrilege of annihilation
“THE PERSECUTED” - What are people saying about us? Our ears hear the insults,
the slander, and the lies. Our ears hear also what God says about us in Jesus.
We can get “an earful” from those who oppose the holy re-creation of this
world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and us, His followers.
Sticks and stones may break our bones and names may hurt us. The prayer of
the Beatitudes begins with listening and ends with showing the face of Jesus
in our showing up each moment.
“For Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his. To the father
through the features of men’s faces.” -G. M. Hopkins, S.J.