Homily (2) 4th Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U. UdoekpoReadings: Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13; Ps 146:6-10; 1 Cor 1:26-31 and Matthew 5:1-12a
May those who humbly Seek(baqash) the Lord be Blessed!In the Bible readings of today, the Prophet Zephaniah, Christ and Paul remind us of many things. They remind us of the importance of peace, justice, righteousness, endurance and kindness. They also remind us of the blessings that awaits the humble and the poor who courageously and steadfastly trust in the Lord and in his divine promises.
Think of the message of Habakkuk. Think of Jeremiah! Both were asking “why”, and “where” is God in the face of sufferings, and injustices committed against the poor and the weak. And why would bad things happen to good people. Zephaniah, whose first reading we just read was a contemporary of Habakkuk and Jeremiah. Three of them were all pre-exilic prophets. They were dealing with the religious, socio-economic and political problems, and tension manufacture for them by the Chaldeans, otherwise known as the Babylonian. They plundered the goods of the poor. They burnt the homes of the less privilege. They mocked and starved the meek and the voiceless. They lied against them, and denied them justice and basic needs including food, shelter, clothing income and fair trade and religious freedom.
Anyone can easily be confused, discouraged and disoriented in the face of such misfortunes. Being a champion and conscience of his people, Zephaniah simply steps in as God’s messenger with hope for his people. He also challenges and speaks out against the proud and the arrogant Chaldeans and those in Judah who might have collaborated with them.
Zephaniah recommends for all parties humility. He recommends, patience, steadfastness and faith (emunah). He recommends justice (misphat). He recommends righteousness (tsaddeqah) all found in the LORD who is the source of joy and peace (shalom) and the sovereign of all creation. For these prophets the righteous like Abraham are expected to be humble. They are expected to be very devout to the Torah- the teachings of the Bible. They are peaceful and loving to their neighbors. They are expected to be seekers and promoters of the common good, of the less privilege but not always seeking themselves. The righteous are expected to completely put their trust in the LORD.
In the New Testament Paul and even Christ constantly appeal and re-relate this message of Israel’s prophets to the ugly and suffering- events of their time. For instance, Paul in Roman 1:17 and in Galatians3:11 is heard reminding everyone that, “the righteous shall live by faith’ (cf. Hab 2:4).
When the Corinthian community had their problems of arrogance, cheating, corruption, rivalry and bragging to the detriment of the poor Paul in his usual way reminds them that God opts for the poor. He prefers the righteous, the lowly, the remnant and those who persevere in righteousness (1 Cor 1:26-31).
It is these same prophetic messages of justice, peace, humility and pursuit of righteousness that Christ boldly repeats in to the gathered crowd in today’s beatitude in Matthew’s Gospel. To many who were in this crowd (the rich, the poor, the lowly, politicians, spies, oppressors and the oppressed, the persecuted, and the persecutors, men, women and children” Jesus taught them: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God….Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matt 5:1-12).
Each of us can identify ourselves in these beatitudes (the poor, meek, those mourning, the hungry, those who practice mercy, seekers of righteousness, the clean in heart, the peace makers, the being persecuted, those their endure insult for the sake of Christ).
Pope Francis in the 4th chapter of his Evangelli Gaudium (the Gospel of Joy) revisits these prophetic ideas of inclusion of the poor and the humble in the social, economic, and political fabrics of our society. He re-emphasis trust in God, justice, pursuit for common, proper minimum wage and social dialogue as a means to true peace.
Wherever we are in our various continents and cultures or from our various positions of strengths and weaknesses let us pray that today’s messages of Zephaniah, Paul and Christ may find a blessed place of peace, justice and righteousness in our homes and societies.