Zep 2:3; 3:12-13
Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
1 Cor 1:26-31
Chances are most of us struggle to keep new year resolutions concerning our health, habits or relationships. Perhaps you have, like me, already fallen behind on spiritual resolutions. Thanks be to God the Lenten season approaches in a few weeks. In the meantime, the table of God’s word nourishes us with the extraordinary graces even outside of our most sacred seasons. Such is the case with this Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, when the wisdom of Scripture offers another approach to spiritual resolutions in the form of the Beatitudes, given by Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount.
In the first reading, the prophet Zephaniah reminds the Israelites that they might be sheltered from the day of the Lord’s anger if they resolved to “seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who have observed his law: seek justice, seek humility.” Seeking God, seeking justice and seeking humility are spiritual paths that are pleasing to God.
The psalmist invites us to make his words of blessing to God our own song of praise. And the psalmist prefigures the blessings of the Beatitudes when he says, “The Lord gives sight to the blind; the Lord raises up those who were bowed down. The Lord loves the just; the Lord protects strangers.”
The same divine reversal of worldly values unfolds in the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth that many of them were not of noble birth or high ranking in society. Yet by God’s action in their lives, they became humble instruments of divine love and mercy to others. As the apostle Paul writes, “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.”
In giving the crowds the Beatitudes, Jesus directs their gaze to the higher values of the kingdom of God in contrast to the values of this world, formed, so often, in isolation from or in opposition to God.
The beatitudes are the “perfect standard of the Christian life,” wrote St. Augustine in one of his homilies. Prior to a 2011 Sunday Angelus, the late Pope Benedict XVI noted that the “Beatitudes are a new program of life, to free oneself from the false values of the world and to open oneself to the true goods, present and future … The Beatitudes are the transposition of the Cross and Resurrection into discipleship. They mirror the life of the Son of God who let himself even be persecuted and despised until he was condemned to death so that salvation might be given to men and women.”
What would this year look like if we turned the Beatitudes into our spiritual resolutions? Jesus invites us to do just that so we can discover the exhilarating path of Christian discipleship as we pray in confidence, saying, “Speak to me, Lord.”
How do the Beatitudes show you the way to live a new life in Jesus?
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Jem Sullivan holds a doctorate in religious education and is an associate professor of Catechetics in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.