Reflection for Sunday – January 29, 2017
Readings: Zephaniah 2: 3, 3: 12-13; 1 Corinthians 1: 26-31; Matthew 5: 1-12A
Preacher: Gee Gee Micoli
Several years ago, I read the book Proof of Heaven, the true story of a neurosurgeon who did not believe in God. At the peak of his career, he developed bacterial meningitis and was declared brain dead. His story recalls his son pleading at his bedside not to leave him. Miraculously, his father did survive and lived to tell his story. He was given a second chance.
Last Sunday, Jesus tells us to “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. The prophet Zephaniah echoes the same warning “For the day of the Lord is at hand”. Although those warnings were pronounced thousands of years ago, they send an urgent message to us today. Many millions of people have died since these words were spoken and they have experienced their Day of the Lord! The kingdom of heaven is at hand every day for us. We may not have tomorrow.
In our first reading this week, Zephaniah focuses on “a people, humble and lowly”, those who have observed God’s law. Even the humble in this group need to be reminded to “seek the Lord”, to “seek justice” and to even seek humility so that they may be protected from the Lord’s anger. Although Zephaniah emphasizes that the time is near, not everyone heeds his urgent warning. Zephaniah tells them that God will purge their society of the “proud braggarts” who have no room in their hearts for either God or their neighbor. Only the holy remnant remains, those who “take refuge” not in themselves but “in the name of the Lord.”
In the Gospel, Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Seated in the stance of a teacher on a mountain, a location believed closer to God, Jesus uses a form, familiar to the Hebrew people from Psalm 1: “Blessed are those who do not take advice from the wicked or take the path of sinners…” Blessed means that we have made decisions that put us on the path that leads to God, very much like the path to sainthood when our Church bestows individuals with the title “Blessed” such as Blessed Mother Theresa or Blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton.
The Hebrew bible also recognizes “the poor” as the true people of God, those who remained dependent on God even while their lives were out of control. They could be poor in a material sense or may also have lost their spirit and purpose. Even when things look the worst, they believe that God’s love will not leave them abandoned or without hope. They trust and remain faithfully dependent on that love. Their attitude of dependence is a requirement for the kingdom of heaven. Conversely, those with over-inflated egos and a strong sense of self-worth could hardly be considered “poor in spirit”. Generosity, kindness, compassion and love must overshadow our selfish attitudes that color our distorted perceptions of our personal importance.
The fifth beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful” is fresh on our minds after just finishing a “Year of Mercy” set before us by Pope Francis. We became aware of the seven corporal works of mercy which included feeding, clothing and sheltering the needy along with visiting the sick, the homebound or imprisoned and burying the dead. The seven spiritual works of mercy call us to teach, counsel, forgive, console and most of all to pray. These needs are ever present in our world, our neighborhood and our families. God chooses to invite into His Kingdom those who embrace their calling in the Beatitudes. Heaven is found through a humble and sensitive attitude which creates a generous heart in us toward our neighbors, families and friends.
St. Basil the Great, one of the early fathers of our church stated: “We claim that we desire the kingdom of God, yet we neglect those things that ensure we could gain entry there.” When we get distracted and busy, we make little effort to follow the directives of Jesus in the beatitudes. Are we foolish enough to believe that what we do, doesn’t make a difference? Every thought, action and decision has to do with God and has consequences that follow us to OUR day of the Lord. Jesus would desire nothing more than to invite each of us into the kingdom of heaven but he needs a humble, willing and generous heart. The readings today guide us to our second chance and we may not have tomorrow!