Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time- Homily By Rev. Dr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings Year A: Zeph 2:3; 3:12-13; Ps 146:6-10, R/ (Matt 5:3); 1 Cor 1:26-31 and Matt 5:1-12a.
Blessed/Happy are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God (Matt 5:3)
The response to today’s Psalm, “Blessed/ happy are the Poor in Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God” taken from Matthew chapter 5:3 reminds us of the Jewish and prophetic origin of our Christian sanctity ( Exod 22:25-27; Deut 15:7-11; Isa 61:1-3; Pss 24, 37; 107). It summarizes the teachings of the Prophet Zephaniah (2:3:12-13), Christ (Matt 5:1-12a and Luke 6:20-23) and that of St. Paul ,an Apostle of the Gentiles (1 Cor 1:26-31). You and I know that Sometimes our obedience to God, doing the right thing, may result in temporary oppression, suffering and material disadvantage. For example, think of those who fight for freedom of worship, speech and self rule round the world. We can give examples along this line. Prophet Zephaniah, Christ and Paul, encourage us to reflect on the rewards of everlasting blessings, comfort, happiness, peace, and joy that awaits us when we are poor in spirit, seek peace, trust God, when we obey God, when we are humble, strive to do His will and live in the spirit of total abandonment to His providence and divine mercy.
When Zephaniah preached in the late pre-exilic period, during the reign of King Josiah in the ancient Judah (640-609) there were lots of problems contrary to the spirit of the “beatitudes, heard today's Gospel. The Egyptians, Assyrians and the Babylonians were not at peace. They were fighting for power, land and material wealth. Some Judeans including priests and princes were neither free of corruption nor arrogance and worship of false gods (Zeph 1:1-8; 3:1-13) introduced by evil kings like Manasseh and Ammon. While encouraging trust in God, he also repudiated violence, pride (Zeph 2:10) and all forms of injustices (Zeph 3:1-11). On judgment day, he saw a hope of salvation for the poor in spirit or the humble of the land #rah ywn[, the anawim.
These are those, who would “seek the Lord,” those “who observe the Lord’s precepts,” those who “seek justice, humility and are not deceitful in their behavior.”
Although the time Christ, and of the Jewish Christian community of Matthew’s beatitude (Matt 5:1-12a) were separated from that of Zephaniah by many decades , it was still a community that understood what sufferings meant. The understood, the meaning of land deprivation . Denials of basic needs and freedom to govern themselves, they knew the meanings. They knew the negatives impacts of pride, abuse human rights, lack of social justice and freedom to worship their true God. When Christ got up on that mountain and pronounced- Makoroi- Blessed/Happy are poor in Spirirt, those who mourn for different reasons, the merciful, those who seek righteousness, peace makers, and the morally clean of hearts, they may have seen in Christ the New Moses (Exod 19ff). Like Jesus they were familiar with Hebrew scriptures and Psalms that stress poverty in spirit and comfort to mourners (Isa 61:1-3), meekness of heart ( Ps 37:11), thirsting for righteousness (Psalms, 1; 107:5-9), peace (Isa) and purity of heart (Ps 24:3-4). Like ourselves, they also knew from Proverbs 14:21, and Hosea 6:6 that since God is Holy and Mercy, God requires mercy and holiness of life from each and every one of us.
Paul’s Corinthian Community was not filled with angels and saints. But with people from different background of talents and gifts, the weak and the strong. They were rivals among them. They were envious and back-biting each other. Divisions and pride had also eaten deep into the spiritual being of this Christian community (1 Cor 12—14). Sometimes these elements can also slip into our modern communities.
It makes a lot of sense when Paul says: “Consider your calling, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful not many were noble of birth. Rather God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong. He chose the poor, the lowly to remind us that the focus our faith, ministry, service should be Christ through our neighbors” (I Cor 1:26-31). Think of what our lives would been without Christianity and our faith tradtions.
Think of what our lives would have been without the Sacrament Penance and others, the Church and the Scriptures, examples of the Saints particularly that of our Mother Mary. For our children think of where we were or where we would have been without mummy who carried us for 9 months, respected and protected us even in their wombs, or after birth if we were to grow without the supports of our good parents and their good examples in faith and morals.
Many of us have also had good mentors, catechists, teachers, advisors, priests, spiritual directors, God parents, friends, brothers and sisters. How did they impact your lives? Or where would you have been without their help and good examples?
The call for us to live the “beatitude”- poverty of the spirit, peace, hunger for justice, mercy, pure of heart, and bearing suffering for the sake of the Gospel, trusting God unconditionally, becomes more and more urgent in our world today, characterized by conflict and rivalry with erosion of family values. A world, crippled by selfishness, individualism, pursuit of wealth and secularism. Aggressive pursuit of personal wealth and satisfaction has left many less interested in promotion of the common good. In terms of communication individual neighbors have become anonymous while electronic objects are starting to talk to us.
We know God is the supreme Peace Maker, Love, Righteous and Mercy. We are invited as God’s sons and daughters in our own little ways and capacities, to participate in living these characteristics of a true disciple of Christ in our homes, families church communities and in the general public. We are invited to promote peace and justice, by being meek and gentle in our words, actions and thought, pursuing righteousness and ready to forgive and be merciful to others after the examples Christ, the true source of our happiness.
Peace be with you.