“Blessed are you… “ (Mt. 5:11)
This Sunday we hear some of the most familiar words found in the Gospels. I would guess that 90% of the things I’ve read and heard (and probably the things I’ve thought and said) about this familiar Gospel has been dead wrong.. Commonly referred to as “The Beatitudes” this Gospel goes to the heart of what it means to be a disciple.
However, most of what I’ve read, heard, and thought, understands the beatitudes as rules of conduct. We interpret them as commandments. We read, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and immediately we start to think about how we can become poor in spirit. We read it as, “If I become poor in spirit (or meek, or persecuted… ), then I will get blessed.” We make this Gospel conditional and a conditional Gospel is not a Gospel at all.
The key word in the Gospel passage is “blessed.” The passage comes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5. It occurs right after Jesus has called his first disciples and begun his ministry of healing and teaching. Jesus is explaining discipleship. He is telling his disciples that they are blessed. They are the beloved of God, chosen to be his disciples. Their call does not mean that life will be easy or perfect. They will still suffer poverty, affliction, persecution, and loss. But God blesses them in the midst of the mess of life. Contrary to appearances, God’s blessing comes in spite of pain.
The Good News of this Gospel is that God’s blessing is not conditional. As disciples, we do not have to become poor or grieving or meek to earn God’s love. The blessing of God stands at the beginning of discipleship. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, the Beatitudes “proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured… for Christ’s disciples.” (CCC 1717). Now that is Good News. God’s blessing is beyond condition. “Rejoice and be glad!” (Mt. 5:12)
We hear a lot about budgets in the news: the Federal budget, state budget, budget cuts, school budgets, family budgets and even church budgets. All this talk about budgets is usually very far removed from the life of faith. In today’s economic climate, budgets are often framed in terms like “making tough decisions” and “tightening the belt”. Practical concerns dominate our thinking about budgets. For some families and businesses the guiding question for budgeting is “How are we going to get through the month?” If you are the “low man on the totem pole” when you hear decision-makers talking about budgets the reaction is often fear. “Will my job or my hours be cut?” Budgets look to the future and the future can often be frightening.
What does faith have to say about budgets? First, I believe our faith tells us, “Do not be afraid.” (Lk. 1:30; see Jn 14:1). The Scriptures repeatedly remind us that God is in charge and that God loves us. “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” (Mt. 6:34). While we don’t know what the future brings, we can be confident that God has a plan and has prepared a place for us in eternity (Jn. 14:1-3). The future is unknown, but God is waiting for us there and is present there just as He is present here and now.
Budgets also indicate our priorities. Our faith, when it is being lived, helps us to set our priorities in line with God’s priorities. The prophets of Israel are continually calling God’s people back to a way of life based on God’s priorities. High among God’s priorities are: respect for life (e.g. Ex. 20:13) and care for the poor. (e.g. Is. 58:6ff; Lk. 3:11). As we look at our personal, state, federal and even our church budgets:
- Do they reflect the key values of the Scriptures?
- Are we planning for the future God intends trusting confidently in the God who loves us?
“John tried to prevent him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?’”
I can relate to John’s confusion in today’s Gospel. John has a sense of who Jesus is. He believes Jesus is the Messiah, the one who will come to bring about the Kingdom of God and change the world. Yet, Jesus asks to be baptized by John. What is Jesus doing?
He was already the Son of God; he did not need baptism. He was already free from sin; he did not need baptism. He was the Son of God from the beginning, yet he took on our human nature and humbled himself to be baptized. His solidarity extended so far that he allowed himself to be thought a sinner.
Jesus reverses what we would expect. He makes himself one with us in our helplessness against the power of sin and in making himself one with us he overcomes the power of sin.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners… Already anticipating the ‘baptism’ of his bloody death. (CCC 536)
In being baptized, Jesus embraced all of us in our sinfulness and alienation from God. By descending into the waters of baptism, he descended into the darkness of sin, our sin, and brought his light there. His baptism reveals Jesus commitment to go to any lengths necessary to free us from our sin. He was counted as a sinner so that we could be free from sin. The baptism of Jesus leads us to the cross where his baptism is brought to fulfillment. Jesus was baptized because he loves us and wants to be one with us in all things.
There is nothing like Christmas music. Something about Christmas brings out our most beautiful and joyful music. This year, our school’s annual Christmas music program was exceptional, the music at our liturgies was excellent, and the combined St. Rose/St. Mary’s concert which is coming up on January 9 at 2pm at St. Mary’s promises to be a beautiful way to close the season of Christmas.
One of the new songs I heard this Christmas was “Walking Like a Wise Man.” This song outlined how to walk like one of the magi in today’s Gospel. The particular line that caught my attention was:
“They walk by faith and not by sight.”
For me, this line captured the essence of wisdom. Normally I think of a wise person as someone who knows what to do and what not to do. That’s true, but this song pointed out another important dimension of wisdom… faith. Wisdom is more than simply knowing what to do in any given situation. The wise person knows when to walk by faith and step out when they don’t know the final destination.
The magi in today’s Gospel possessed this deeper kind of wisdom. They did not know where they were going. They walked by faith. It wasn’t blind faith, because they could see the star and knew that God was guiding them somewhere. They just didn’t know the final destination. These wise men put one foot in front of the other, trusting that the destination was a good one. Trusting that God was leading them to new life, a better life.
We are also called to walk by faith and not by sight. When we are honest with ourselves, we know that we don’t know where we are going. But we can have faith that the destination God is leading us to is a good one. Together, we put one foot in front of the other and walk by faith and not by sight.