Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Times (A)
Sunday January 29
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
First Reading(Zephaniah 2. 3; 3. 12 – 13) Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 146) Second Reading 1. 26
– 31). Gospel (Matthew 5. 1 – 12)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples
came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who
mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful. For they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they
will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed
are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against
you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the
same way they persecuted the Prophets who were before you.”
Some time ago, I visited a dying man in a palliative care home. He had several sons and
daughters, of whom only one daughter was present there at his deathbed. I asked her about other
family members. She stood in tears. After her mother’s death, as I heard from her, she was the
only one who stayed with her Dad in his ailment and medical treatment. Though other relatives
were living in the same town, they didn’t care for this old man. As we all can imagine her dad left
all his property and savings in his will, for this loving daughter. He honored her as the only
remnant worthy of his love. She was finally blessed and rewarded by him, or what she gave. All
the remnants, like this daughter are blessed in life and become a blessing in others’ life too. This is
what God tells us through today’s readings.
Why and how does God choose certain sons and daughters of his own, to be his beloved
‘remnants’? There are so many blessed in life and become a blessing in others’ life, too while so
many disappear and go with the wind. It is hurting to most of us. However, God, though not one
sided, acts always in his spirit of love and deals with every one of his people, in accordance with
each one’s free will and capability. In relationship with God, many go round and round at the
surface, while some get closer and closer, higher and higher and deeper and deeper in their rapport
with him. In the Bible, the latter are called’ the remnant of God.’ The word ‘remnant’ means
something that is left over or a surviving race. Here the Scriptures are indicating mainly, those
remnants that survive and stay on the side of God, in the continued war going on between the Good
and the Evil, between God and Satan.
Who in this world is eligible to be such ‘remnants’ of God? Prophet Zephaniah points out that
these remnants of God are: a people who are humble and lowly; who take refuge in the name of the
Lord; who do no wrong; who speak no lies, and in whose mouths no deceitful words are found. In
the mind of Paul, these remnants are those foolish in the world; the weak of the world; the lowly
and despised of world; and those who are worthy of nothing. Jesus’ list of Beatitudes in the
Gospel stands as a compendium of all that is said, about the ‘remnant of God’ by different authors
in the Bible. According to Jesus, the remnants of God are: those who are poor in spirit; those who
mourn; those who are meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; those who are
merciful; those who are clean of heart; who are peacemakers; and those who are persecuted for the
sake of righteousness.
According to the prophet, these remnants are, at the gratuitousness of God, rescued and protected
by him so that, they may be sheltered on the day of the Lord and may pasture and couch their
flocks, with none to disturb them; Paul goes one step further and claims that these people are saved
as remnants: to shame the wise; to shame the strong; and to reduce to nothing those, who think
they are something. Jesus in the Gospel is our judge and reward giver, proclaims his verdict for
God’s remnants: The kingdom of heaven is theirs; they will comforted; they will inherit the Land;
they will be satisfied; they will be shown mercy; they will see God; they will be called children of
God; and their reward will be great in heaven too.
Are we remnants of God? It is a big question to be answered, by God and ourselves. From the
Spirit of God we hear today that we are chosen to be remnants of God, not by our swimming in the
Baptismal water inside a Church, or by the label of enrollment in a community called Christianity.
Not all seemingly found inside the Church, are remnants. As Augustine wrote, many are visibly
and sacramentally Baptized and registered and practicing their faith externally, intrinsically and
intimately connected with God in Jesus even if they are not visibly demonstrating their identity are
the ones who form, the invisible reality of the Church. These ‘remnants of God’ accept willingly
Jesus’ call to holiness, as their life-choice and life-style. They live a life described in the
Scriptures. These remnants remain inside the world as the yeast, as seed, as light and as salt doing
the work of the Lord. They suffer and die but they turn out to be the source of inspirations,
aspirations to the humanity. They live as effective means and tools in the hands of God, in
fulfilling his plan of salvation. Let us join with those blessed remnants today.
When Jesus went up on the mountain and taught his disciples the ‘Beatitudes’, was the social
situation any better than what we experience today? Jesus knew very well that it was indeed very
bad. If we examine the gospels and listen to what He Himself says, we see that the social situation
at that time was no better than our present one.
He tells people, ‘The king is an immoral man; the tax collectors and administrators are corrupt;
men are adulterers – the whole lot of them (they all left when He said, “If any one of you without
sin, let him stay’). His best friend, John, was in jail; the shepherds were hirelings and mercenaries.
Jesus gave His people a compact summary of the rules for happiness in the Beatitudes. This
summary is revolutionary. Deep but simple, it is eminently practical. Jesus never meant that to be
poor, to weep and to be persecuted are good things. He wants all human beings to do their best to
be free from poverty and obtain the necessary things of life.
Yet Jesus greatly loved the poor and insisted that to be poor is an essential condition to enter His
kingdom. When one is poor, one is much more prepared to put one’s trust in the Lord, making it
easy for God to save that person. In the estimation of Jesus, that one is poor who puts his trust in
God alone and not in his wealth or other human resources. Jesus has clearly pointed out the source
of our happiness – God, and the way to find Him is by putting our whole trust in Him.
The beatitudes offer a summary of Jesus’ teaching. They are the condensed gospel and need some
teasing out to apply them to life. We are aware of political manifestos, statements of what a party
stands for, what they intend to achieve if you elect them. This gospel is Jesus’ manifesto. It is a
manifesto that he promises will bring us near to God.
People who are detached and show gentleness to others, are blessed. Even if they are rich, their
money does not make them boastful or proud. Grief is the price we must eventually pay for having
loved. If you are determined never to cry at a funeral, don’t ever love anyone. The meek and the
gentle are the most resilient of people. Good people deeply respect justice and fair play, and try to
win them for others. As you treat others, so you will be treated. If we want to receive mercy and
compassion, we must show mercy to others. A pure heart is not devious, deceitful, selfish or
cunning. Jesus did not say we should be passive. Rather he urges us to build bridges of peace with
Jesus warns those who follow him will be treated as he was. There is a cost in Pentecost, and
following him means sharing his cross. Right from the beginning when Simeon saw him in the
temple, he said that Jesus would be a sign of contradiction. Everything he said and did was a
challenge to this world’s values. Those with power, prestige, and control felt undermined by his
message. The religious leaders who were the arbiters of right and wrong, were so threatened by
him that they planned his death.
The attitudes Jesus calls blessed are the opposite to fierce competition. As St Paul says: “It was to
shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, those whom the world thinks
common and contemptible are the ones God has chosen.”
Those who lament the fewness of “practising Catholics” may have reduced this notion to
attendance at Sunday Mass. There is no mention of that in the beatitudes. Jesus simply listed some
qualities needed to enter the kingdom of heaven. These “happy attitudes” are the charter of the
kingdom. They are ideals that are well-nigh unattainable. They are values to aim at, meant to help
us moderate our lifestyles. History produces some people who incarnate these beatitudes, like a
Francis of Assisi or a Saint Mother Teresa, or some specially dedicated individuals that we may be
privileged to know. As St Paul says, God has made us members of Christ, “who is our wisdom, our
virtue, our holiness and our freedom.”
There is a cleansing power in the beatitudes. They are about letting go of things that are not life-
giving, and about becoming truly free. They offer guidelines for living, for inner peace and
happiness. Formal religion can be too tied to rules and regulations and be authoritarian. Spirituality
is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is about letting go, so as to be free in God’s sight.