Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A

Francis J. Barr, O.S.A.
Saint Augustine Friary
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Zep 2: 3; 3: 12-13
Ps 146: 6-7, 8-9, 9-10
1 Cor 1: 26-31
Mt 5: 1-12a

When the prophet Zephaniah speaks of the “humble and lowly,” he refers to the remnant of Israel who would be left after the day of the Lord’s wrath as a sign. They seek God and justice, and keep the Covenant alive as they await the Messiah. They are the ones that represent the hope of the future and are destined for eternal life, in contrast to the powerful and unjust ones, that he says God will destroy. Ages later, Jesus comes not to destroy, but to fulfill the law and the prophets. And this means salvation for the faithful ones.

The Gospel of St. Luke contains three Beatitudes and these are addressed personally to the listener, “Blessed are you…” Matthew addressed them more generally, “Blessed are they…” The most important one is likely the first one and it sets the tone for those that follow. Luke refers to the “poor” and Matthew adds “in Spirit.” “Poor in Spirit” is more than having an attitude of detachment about material goods. “Poor” expresses an economic condition or a social situation. Poor in Spirit refers to those who recognize and understand their vulnerabilities and limitations and turn to God for help and strength. These are the ones most acceptable to the Lord, because they are spiritually available to God.

The Christian community is linked to that remnant of Israel. The Christian community at Corinth is despised by the powerful because of their poverty. The message that Paul addresses to the Corinthians is one of hope. The poor and the lowly are often those who are better disposed to hear the word of God and take it to heart. They probably have a lot fewer possessions than those who are better off, and in that sense, maybe they have fewer distractions. But what sets them apart is their openness to the word of God. This is the reason they are both chosen and preferred by the Lord.

We, the Christian community of today, are both chosen and preferred by the Lord also, to the extent we are open and available to hear the word of God.

Whatever it is we are or have, was first the Lord’s. We may have achieved and accumulated a great deal because of our hard work and intellect. Whatever we have in talent or gifts and abilities, whatever we possess comes to us from God. All these are free gifts to us that come from the Lord to be used for some benefit. Sometimes they benefit others for their good. In other circumstances, they are for our own use and take care of our own needs. Other times, the good of others and our own good coincide. What we do simply to build up the general welfare of everyone is called “for the good of the whole.”

We might do well to remember where we come from and who we are. Our beginnings may have been more humble and simple than we are now, but from the first we are the Lord’s.