January 28, 2023 // Perspective
If You Remain Faithful, God’s Protection Will Prevail
Fourth 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, presumably King Hezekiah, who reigned as king of Judah, the southern Hebrew kingdom centered on Jerusalem, from 715 B.C. to 687 B.C.
Royal ancestry is important. 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 and circumstances 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 because of policies for conquest of hostile neighboring powers, but rather because of the people’s sin.
Sin was the root of all problems. If the Chosen People would remain faithful, regardless of whatever, God’s protection 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, but it runs utterly counter to the human presumption of reality. So, we cannot judge our lives, or the world, by earthly, human standards, but only by Jesus.
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 seats them very much in the history of God’s People, and in the People’s experiences. It places them in the historical unfolding 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 First Corinthians. The Beatitudes reveal the rewards that await the good. In God’s kingdom, reality, not human hunches, or fleeting satisfaction, abide.
The readings for this weekend, culminating in the Beatitudes, both celebrate the revelation of God to us, bringing us genuine wisdom about life, and 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 — always. If we follow the world’s assessment of things, we at best dance on the edge of the cliff.
The Beatitudes reveal to us the joy and perfection of life with God, and by inference, they summon us to do our part in redemption. This summons applies to us personally and collectively. We must accept the Lord, the Son of God, the Redeemer, born of Mary at Christmas, seen as God at the Epiphany, the Savior manifested at the Baptism of the Lord.
We are called upon to live the Gospel in our lives, in all that we do, and thereby bring love, justice, and hope into the world.
Lent is not long away. The Church gently guides us to question ourselves, to learn of Jesus, for our own good, for the good of the world.
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