Zep 2:3, 3:12-13; I Cor 1:26-31; Mt 5:1-12a
A famous preacher once told his congregation, “Every blade of grass is a sermon.” A few days later, a parishioner saw him mowing his lawn. ‘That’s right, Father,’ the man said, ‘cut your sermons short.’ We begin this week, Jesus’ sermon on the mount.
James in his delightful book, To See a World in a Grain of Sand, tells the fable of a wise old cat who notices a kitten chasing its tail. “Why are you chasing your tail?” said the wise old cat. The kitten replied, “I have learned that the best thing for a cat is happiness, and happiness is my tail. Therefore, I am chasing it, and when I catch it, I shall have happiness.” The wise old cat responded, “My son, I too have paid attention to the problems of the universe. I too have judged that happiness is my tail. But, I noticed that whenever I chase after it, it keeps running away from me, and when I go about my business, it just seems to come after me wherever I go.” We do not find happiness in material things, in a pill, in a bottle, or by having love affairs. Happiness is something that comes from within us. The only truly happy life is a life lived with God as our life’s Source and our true center.
Well, the Beatitudes announced by Jesus in today’s Gospel might not seem right to most people because we equate happiness with power, influence, wealth, health and beauty. In fact, if anybody other than Jesus had proposed them, we might just have considered them as too extreme. But Jesus meant what he said and practiced what he taught. Now, how many of you won the Mage-million or Power-ball lotto? No, body! Then we are all a bunch of losers…right. Well, welcome to the board. Jesus has a special message for us today.
Last week we heard Jesus in the gospel calling people to “repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Remember “Kingdom of Heaven” means “reign of God” and Jesus calls every one of us to be partners in building the Kingdom as he called his apostles.
Today’s gospel selection is from the beginning of Jesus’ famous sermon on the mount. It consists in the eight beatitudes. These eight sayings by Jesus are widely recognized to be the heart of his teaching. They have been called the Magna Charta or the Constitution of the kingdom of God, because they express both what the kingdom is and what must be done to be a part of it.
Each one of the beatitudes begins by describing a present quality or condition in us which will lead us to happiness and inclusion into the kingdom of God. Most of the beatitudes point to a virtue, a good habit, which qualifies us to belong to the kingdom: Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy; Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God; Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. These qualities of mercy, purity, peace characterize the kingdom and those who belong to it.
But one of the beatitudes is different—the fourth beatitude. The fourth beatitude does not begin with a present virtue or good habit but rather with a hope or desire: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” The fourth beatitude says that we are blessed if desire righteousness.
Most of us know who we should be and how we should live. But many of us struggle to find the wisdom and the strength to be what God calls us to be. We know that we should be merciful, forgiving those who hurt us. Yet time and again we cling to our anger, refusing to let go of our hurt, still longing to get even. We know that we should be peacemakers. Yet instead of taking steps to build harmony in our relationship we continue to explode with impatience and exasperation. We know that we should be pure of heart. Yet our thoughts and our lifestyle are overcome with unwholesome desires that drag us down. We know that we should be poor in spirit. But we cannot resist the temptation to throw our weight around, to promote our self-importance, to judge others because they are different.
When we recognize the ways in which we miss the mark, how we fail to become the people God calls us to be, then the fourth beatitude is our loophole, our escape clause from the expectations of the kingdom. It tells us that even though we are not yet the merciful, peaceful, pure, and loving people we should be, as long as we continue to hunger and thirst for righteousness, God will not abandon us. God will help us to grow and improve.
The fourth beatitude, then, is the beatitude for the imperfect disciple. In the 1970’s there was a popular poster which read, “Be patient. God is not finished with me yet.” When we are not the people that we are called to be, the fourth beatitude gives us hope. It tells us that if we continue to yearn for righteousness, if we continue to hunger and thirst to be a true disciple, God will work with us. God will make us more merciful, more peaceful, more pure, humble and loving. As long as we continue to desire what God has called us to be, this beatitude promises that all is not lost. We can change. Someday our desire to be righteous will carry us into the kingdom of God.