Jan 28, 2011

4th Sunday - Rewards better than you think!

"He went up on the mountain and began to teach them . . ."

Year A

Zephania 2:3;3:12-13
1 Cor 1:26-31
Mt 5: 1-12a

Here in the Pacific Northwest we enjoy some spectacular natural beauty. Long trips, while somewhat tiresome, are made tolerable by the ever changing landscape of mountains, plains, sea coast, high desert, forests, volcanic formations, and of course our more populous areas, Universities, colleges, and smaller towns. One would think this natural beauty would be a mecca for tourists and high on the list of popular destinations.

While it is for many, of course, we are told that the number one destination here is none of those just listed. The number one destination is a large Casino just 30 miles west of here on the way to the Pacific Ocean just 25 miles beyond. While it isn’t Las Vegas, rain or shine, the large, expansive parking lots are full or near capacity. A Casino rather than our God made natural wonders is the #1 destination? I hope it isn't true but one thing is for certain – You may go in rich but rarely if ever come out richer. Go in rich and come out poor is far more the experience. Now how would I know that?

Our Gospel this Sunday from Matthew 5 is a familiar listing of what could be viewed as both social and spiritual conditions. And, it begins with the poor. Not those who leave the Casino with far less than they entered but a far more significant spiritual/moral condition named by Christ Jesus who sits “up the mountain” like Moses himself. From a different mount named Sinai descended Moses who delivered God’s 10 Commandments to the people below. Here, the shadow of Moses is reflected in Jesus but unlike Moses he does not deliver God’s word as a secondary messenger. On this mount, Jesus is that Word of God itself.  After the model of Christ himself who is "meek and humble" of heart; single hearted in his obedience to the Father's will; who is peacemaker for all and who was persecuted for "the sake of righteousness" - we imitate him as his disciples in this call to Christian formation - made in his image.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” begins this Word from the mount where he sits. This poverty may be seen as those who have no money, no home, no food and a host of other social conditions we view on the evening news. But, it is deeper than that. Before God we are all poor for we depend on him for all things. We are "children of God" as we pray for "our daily bread." It is a spiritual disposition, a Christ-like humiliy, Jesus refers to that all are called to embrace no matter what their bank account contains.

So, we may imagine Jesus teaching: "Blessed are the poor in spirit - as I am poor in spirit; Blessed are the meek - as I am meek; Blessed are the peacemakers - as I come to you in peace; Blessed are the merciful - as I have shown mercy . . ."

The Beatitudes from the mountain continue in our Gospel but if we look beyond the first half of each – beyond the conditions which are both material and spiritual such as the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, etc.

It is the second half of each that should grab our attention and lift our spirits; here we find the rewards are greater than the lack of satisfaction or sadness we may experience. Here, Jesus promises: “the kingdom of heaven,” comfort, inheritance of “land” (not real estate but a place in his home), satisfaction, mercy from God, the vision of God, named as children of God, a share in his kingdom, and a great reward in heaven! That’s more than just winning the jackpot at a Casino or the lottery – such pleasures fade quickly away.

Jesus promises us rewards far greater than we deserve or might expect. Such is the foundation of Christian hope and optimism.

Am I just sitting around feeling helpless, powerless, dejected, sad, useless, or perhaps that I need no one for nothing? This Sunday’s readings raise the ante very high and invite us to expect much from God if we approach him with trust and humility.

Our Eucharist is a treasure in our midst as Christ himself feeds us with his presence. Spiritual starvation, meaninglessness, emptiness, sadness I think can all be tied to a faithless life.  In the Beatitudes we see the solution to our deepest needs - to know we are loved by a God who rewards us beyond our expectations for our faithfulness to him.

Father in heaven,
from the days of Abraham and Moses
until this gathering of your Church in prayer,
you have formed a people in the image of your Son.

Bless this people with the gift of your kingdom.
May we serve you with our every desire
and show love for one another
even as you have loved us.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

(Opening Prayer - 4th Sunday Ordinary Time)