4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first biblical reading this weekend is from Zephaniah. These details are known about this prophet. He was the son of Cushi and a descendant of Hezekiah. It his presumed that this ancestor was King Hezekiah, who reigned as king of Judah, the southern Hebrew kingdom centered on Jerusalem, from 715-687 B.C.
If indeed Zephaniah descended from a king, he may more easily have had access to the royal court and consequently more familiarity with the politics of his day.
Whatever the exact timeframe in which this prophecy was written, the plight of the Hebrews, both those in the kingdom of Judah and those in the northern kingdom of Israel, was uncertain. The two kingdoms were insignificant and weak. They were easy prey for their mightier neighbors, and as history unfolded, powerful neighbors repeatedly overran them.
The prophets, Zephaniah included, saw the peril facing the Chosen People not so much as a result of policies for conquest of hostile neighboring powers, but rather as a consequence of Hebrew sin.
Nevertheless, for those of the Chosen People who remained faithful regardless of whatever, God’s protection and help would prevail.
St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians furnishes the next reading this weekend. The reading presents to us a paradox. The weak will be exalted. The mighty will be laid low. This paradox is deep and profound, teaching us a fundamental fact of life. We cannot judge our lives, or the world, by earthly, human standards. Happily, in Jesus, God has given us the standard to judge our lives and the world.
For its last reading, the Church this weekend offers us the Gospel of St. Matthew, and its presentation of the Beatitudes.
(Among the Synoptic Gospels, Luke also has a version of the Beatitudes, only slightly differing from that given in Matthew. Mark does not include the Beatitudes.)
These verses are very reminiscent of the Psalms. This fact roots them very much in the history of God’s people, and in the people’s experiences. It roots them in the historical fact of Revelation.
Always strong in the Old Testament was the hope that one day God would lead the people into life in a wonderful kingdom, where God would reign, and in which peace, love and justice would prevail.
The Beatitudes describe what such a kingdom would be. They give the same viewpoint as that of 1 Corinthians. Without being as direct as 1 Corinthians, the Beatitudes offer us a paradox. In God’s kingdom the poor and humble will be the greatest.
The readings for this weekend, culminating in the Beatitudes, both celebrate the revelation of God to us, bringing us genuine wisdom about life, and also challenge us to be strong and active witnesses to Jesus and to the truth of the Gospel.
Zephaniah builds the case that living without regard for God reaps the whirlwind. Paul adds another lesson. The judgments of the world are unsure if not altogether false. If we follow the world’s assessment of things, we at best walk on the edge of the cliff.
The Beatitudes reveal to us the joy and perfection of life with God, and they summon us to do our part in redemption. This summons applies to us personally and individually. We must accept the Lord, the Son of God, the Redeemer, born of Mary at Christmas, seen as God at the Epiphany, and the Savior manifested at Baptism of the Lord.
Then, beyond ourselves, we are called upon the live the Gospel in our lives, in all that we do.
Now as we look to the coming of Lent not that long away, the Church gently guides us to questioning ourselves. We have learned of Jesus. Now, how do we respond?
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