On the fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we begin to read the famous Sermon on the Mount, which begins in the 5th chapter and continues through chapter 7 of Matthew. The next six weeks we will be reflecting on the sermon on the Mount. It is the proclamation of salvation, beginning with Beatitudes which is the center of the good news.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1965 says, the New Law or the Law of the Gospel is the perfection here on earth of the divine law, natural and revealed. It is the work of Christ and is expressed particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. It is also the work of the Holy Spirit and through him, it becomes the interior law of charity: "I will establish a New Covenant with the house of Israel. . . I will put my laws into their hands, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
Sermon on the Mount summarizes the Law of the New Covenant. This reminds us of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-24). Moses brought the Law down the mountain to the people. But Jesus delivers his teaching to disciples who have come up to the mountain. Jesus is the new Moses.
Let us look at each one of them. The poor in spirit: We live in this spirit when we detach from the world and trust God. In this state, we recognize their need for God and his grace. St. Gregory of Nyssa compared poverty in spirit with humility. The one who lives this beatitude will be rich and acquire full possession of the kingdom at the final judgment.
Those who mourn: It includes those who suffer for the faith, those who suffer out of love for others, and those who weep for their own sins. They receive comfort in the presence of God who wipes away every tear (Revelation 7:17).
The Meek: The meek possess an inner strength to restrain anger and discouragement in the midst of adversity. They may appear powerless and insignificant in the sight of the world. Meekness is exemplified in the life of Moses (Numbers 12:3) and especially in Jesus, Matthew 11:29, 21:5). They imitate Jesus by showing kindness and gentleness towards their neighbors.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: Their priority is to seek the Lord’s kingdom and righteousness. They see an urgency to both live the Gospel and spread it to others. Ultimately, they will be satisfied in eternal life (Matthew 25:46).
The merciful: They imitate Father’s mercy (Luke 6:36) by overlooking and forgiving others (Matthew 18:21-22,33). The merciful are patient and understanding in bearing with others’ faults, and they are compassionate with respect to the suffering, defects, and need of others (Matthew 6:2-4; 25:34-40). At the final judgment, they will receive mercy which lasts forever (Matthew 6:14).
The pure heart: They act with integrity and serve the Lord unselfishly. The heart is the center of one person’s thoughts, words, actions, and emotions. They have purity of intention to associate their wills and minds with God’s. They will avoid evil thoughts and be chaste because it is a liberating virtue that leads to contemplative prayer and charity (Matthew 5:27-30). They find treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). In eternity the pure in heart will see God as the angels do even now (Matthew 18:10; 1 Cor 13:12; Rev 22:4).
The peacemakers: They not only seek their own reconciliation with God and their neighbor but also seek to help others to reconcile and instill peace in all relationships (CCC 2305, 2330). The Gospel of Matthew 5:45 says peacemakers will be called children of God. The gift of sonship is both a present possession of believers (Romans 8:14-16; 1 John 3:1) and a future hope of the resurrection of the body (Romans 8:23) and the glory of eternal life (Revelation 21:7).
Those who are persecuted: They persevere staidly in the faith and suffer for their faithfulness to Christ (CCC 886, 1967). They are targets of the world’s hatred (John 15:18-19) because of their commitment to the Gospel (1 Peter 3:14). They will receive a great reward in the coming kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:12).
We can see the perfection of the beatitude in the life of Christ. He invites us to follow him in prayer, humility, self-sacrifice, hardship, and persecution because of it.
The Sunday of The Word of God
Pope Francis invites us to celebrate the third Sunday of ordinary time to celebrate as The Sunday of The Word of God. In his Apostolic letter “Aperuit Illis,” Pope writes, “Devoting a specific Sunday of the liturgical year to the word of God can enable the Church to experience anew how the risen Lord opens up for us the treasury of his word and enables us to proclaim its unfathomable riches before the world.” Catechism of the Catholic Church 105 says God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit." The Sunday of The Word of God reminds us to read the Scripture and have great understanding.
Tourists were visiting the famous Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. While they were below ground in the giant cave, the lights went out. Among those trapped in the darkness were two children: an eight-year-old boy and a five-year-old sister.
The situation was scary, especially for children. Suddenly the little girl began to cry. The eight-year-old brother was heard saying, “don’t worry, Amy. There is a man up there who knows how to turn the lights on again.”
The story is a beautiful illustration of the prophecy of Isaiah in the first reading. In the Gospel Matthew says this prophecy is fulfilled: ‘the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death, light has arisen.’ Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”
A thousand years before Jesus, God promised King David that his kingdom will last forever (2 Samuel 7). David’s kingdom consisted of the 12 sons of Jacob and their descendants, which made the 12 tribes of the kingdom of Israel. However, by 922 BC after the death of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel was divided into two - the 10 tribes of the north become the kingdom of Israel with the capital of Samaria and then the two tribes in the south become the kingdom of Judah with the capital of Jerusalem. Isaiah lived in a divided Israel.
Invaders like Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans always came through the north. It was the trade route of what were. The tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were the first two tribes to go into exile. In 722 BC Assyrian exile, most of the tribes of Northern Kingdom Israel were wiped out from the face of the map. In 587 BC the remaining two tribes, and the Kingdom of Judah were taken into exile by the Babylonians. Around 537 BC Persians defeated the Babylonians and liberated the two tribes in the south. For sixth-century Jews, all of God’s promises were broken, and the kingdom was ruined. Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (9:1). Isaiah proclaimed that God’s power is greater than the power of darkness and assured them of great light. Matthew sees here, through the coming of Messiah to Zebulun and Naphtali this prophecy is fulfilled. Precisely where the exile began is where Jesus is going to start the restoration, undoing the effects of the exile. Jesus started the restoration by announcing, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” The Greek word uses “metanoia” which means a profound change of heart.
In the second part of the Gospel, Jesus called four of the Apostles-two pairs of brothers to follow him. They left everything and followed him. Jesus told them “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They found the “great light” and learned everything from him.
The question is: How is Jesus going to gather the twelve tribes of Israel? He chose twelve apostles and thought at the Last Supper he going to gather the people of the new Israel. He entrusted the light to the twelve to carry to the end of the world. Today we are counted among the twelve to carry the light to those who are in darkness. Today, we, the new Israel, gather in celebration of the Eucharist, the nourishment for our journey, and send out to proclaim the Good News in our daily lives.
Once upon a time, there was a boy who spent many hours building a model sailboat. When he put it in the local river, however, it moved away from him quickly. He chased it along the bank, but the strong wind and current carried the boat away. The heartbroken boy knew how hard he would have to work to build another sailboat. Downriver, a man found the beautiful boat, took it to town and sold it to a toy store. Later, the boy was walking through town and noticed the boat in the store window. He explained the situation, but the shopkeeper didn't believe him and said that the only way to get the boat back was to buy it. The boy wanted it back so much that he did exactly that. Then he looked at the boat and said, "Little boat, now you're twice mine: I made you and I bought you."
God created us in his image and likeness. And when we were lost, He came to bring us back, He paid with His blood. Today John the Baptist introduces Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." In John's Gospel there are so many incidents explained in the backdrop of the Old Testament exodus story.
In the book of Exodus 12, we read the famous story of the sacrifice of the Passover lamb. The sacrifice of the Passover Lamb that saved the Israelites from the destroying angel, from the angel of death, and then they were liberated from the slavery and began their journey to the promised land. Jesus is the new Passover Lamb who poured out Blood to save us and to lead us to freedom from slavery of sin.
The ancient instructions for killing and eating the Passover lamb said, "You must not break any bone of it" (Ex 12:46). And so, John says, the soldiers did not break Jesus' legs as he hung on the Cross but pierced him instead with a lance. Later, near the end of the century, in John's apocalyptic vision he saw "between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered" (Rev 5:6) that is, dead and raised up again. We read in Isaiah 53 the prophecy of a suffering servant. Although this was written six hundred years before Jesus, it describes the feelings of God’s people as they look at Jesus on the cross.
St. John the Baptist had his testimony to Jesus as the Lamb of God. By saying “Lamb of God” John the Baptist affirmed the redemptive sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of all the people. Jesus came to take “away the sins of the world.” In the passage John the Baptist is introducing Jesus, the new Passover Lamb of the New Exodus.
In the Eucharist, at "the breaking of the bread" we proclaim the Baptist’s testimony. Our traditional fraction anthem is the Agnus Dei – “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, has mercy on us/grants us peace.” In this prayer, we give expression to our deepest understanding of the identity and purpose of Jesus Christ as our Lamb and Lord. By his life of love and sacrifice, we believe and affirm that he is the one who came and continues to come into a broken life/world to take our sins upon himself.
John testified that the spirit descended on Jesus and that therefore he is going to be the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. In the 1 Samuel 16, we read the anointing of David on whom the Spirit came. This Gospel passage announces the Davidic servant, Jesus, of whom Isaiah prophesied.
The first reading is from the book of Isaiah: the second Servant Song. Bible Scholars have called this and three similar passages from this section of Isaiah (chapters 40-55), the “Songs of the Suffering Servant.” Isaiah is prophesying about the mission of the servant. Centuries before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied that all nations would be included in the blessing of his New Covenant. The Gospels clearly show that the “suffering servant” is Jesus who came to “take away the sin of the world.”
The readings invite us to open ourselves to receive the blessing Jesus brought to us through his passion, death, and resurrection. Every time we gather, he breaks and shares with us, gives us nourishment. Then we are sent out to break and share with others. In other words, we are sent out to live the Eucharist.
Most of the parents may have sweet memories of taking your child to Christmas Mass and kneeling at the manger and telling them stories. You and your child might have marveled at the peaceful manger scene. Most of the time, baby Jesus has his arms reaching out as if to embrace everyone in the world. That image sums up perfectly the meaning of His Epiphany - manifestation, or “shining upon” the earth. The three wise men from the East knelt at the manger and marveled at baby Jesus. God made visible/revealed to humanity.
The wise men are from the East, but from where in the East. There are three predictions about the place. Some predict that they are from Persia; some others say they are from Babylon. The third prediction is from Arabia. Today’s first reading from the book of Isaiah gives us more approval from the third prediction which is Arabia. In the first reading, we read, “Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.” Matthew is looking at the prophecy of Isaiah which tells us about the non-Israelites bringing gifts to the Lord. In Responsorial Psalm 72, today we read that “The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Sheba shall bring tribute. All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him.”
In the first reading, the light of Isaiah proclaimed to Zion symbolizes the blessing to come to her: the glory of the Lord, the return of her children, the wealth of nations who themselves will walk by her light. If we want to understand the meaning of this passage, we need to look at the background of this passage. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians 57 years before Christ. Fifty years later, the Persians conquered the Babylonians, and they allowed the Jews to return home. They found their city and homeland was ruined and rebuilding was extremely difficult. The prophet was giving them encouragement and telling them that Jerusalem will become the center of spirituality and light of the world.
As Christians, we understand Jerusalem and Zion to refer now to the Church, which is the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrew 12:22). Isaiah prophesied that when the light shines upon them, all the nations will be attracted. When we read this passage for Epiphany, we can see the Magi followed the star and came to adore the Newborn King.
In the Gospel magi came to King Herod in search of the newborn King, Jesus. Herod reigned from 37 to 4 B.C. Magi were the priestly caste and they were astrologers. It was a common ancient belief that a new star appeared at the time of a ruler’s birth. Matthew also draws upon the Old Testament story of Balaam, who had prophesied that “A star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). The Magi were not members of the Chosen Jewish People, so the Epiphany today shows Jesus came for all people. The Magi shows us that there is no substitute for an open heart and mind. For Herod, this message about the Newborn King brought fear. He closed his mind and heart towards Jesus, but he pretended to show that he was eager to see him.
The identity of Christ is revealed to different people in different times: First prophets told in general about the coming of Messiah. Then in an intimate way told Mary and Joseph, then to shepherd and magi and later to John the Baptist and then to the disciples. The shepherds represent the poor and ignorant, and the magi represent pagan believers and intellectuals. The Good News is for everyone. God revealed himself to each one of us. The mission of the Church is to make Christ known to all nations (Matthew 28:19).