HOMILY FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
THEME: POOR IN SPIRIT.
BY: Fr. Jude Nnadi
Readings: Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13; 1Corinthians1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12
“Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, seek justice, seek humility… But I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord” (Zeph 2-3).
“God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” (1 Cor 1).
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5).
Brethren, in this Sunday’s liturgy we are presented with three stupendous biblical readings linked together by a fundamental word. The first is taken from a booklet of only 53 verses written by the prophet Zephaniah towards the end of the fifth century B.C. His message is constantly stretched in two tones: first, he calls on God’s wrath against all the corrupt of Israel, and secondly, he lights the torch of hope for the victims of corruption. In our text of today, the overbearing politicians, corrupt judges, wicked priests, “roaring lions”, “evening wolves” and “bogus prophets” – as the he calls them – have all disappeared. This good news has given birth to a city of the just, of the poor, of the humble of the earth, a city of those who choose the word of God as guide of their life and hope.
With the second reading we move over almost seven centuries later, to Corinth, a cosmopolitan and opulent metropolis. That little Christian community which is breaking up into sects and factions and which lets itself captivated by the charm of Greek intellectual and financial power, to them Paul forcefully reiterates an idea which runs throughout the Scriptures. God’s choices are “whimsical”; he does not focus on successful men, he chooses the littles ones like Isaac, Jacob, David, the awkward like Moses and Jeremiah, the farmer like Amos, the fishermen like Peter and his brother Andrew. The poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger are his protégés. In the fight against evil, he does not arm himself with warriors, nobles and the powerful but instead chooses the weak, lowly and the despised.
Let us turn to the gospel, that famous page of the Beatitudes which opens the Sermon on the Mount, the first of the five speeches which are like the pillars of Matthew’s Gospel. At the background of the mountain is Christ the new Moses who, while seated on the new Sinai, offers us the new word of God. And the first recipients are precisely the “poor in spirit”, a biblical expression to indicate those who have the heart and conscience most intimate of his “poor”. The word that unites our today’s liturgical readings.
The “poor” in the original Hebrew term (anawim) indicates those who are “bent”, that is, the oppressed, those at the mercy of the powerful, the defenseless victims, an immense multitude in all regions of our planet throughout history. Yet this portrait of the poor is incomplete because, as we see also in Zephaniah, “anawims” are also the just, the meek, the humble, the faithful to God. They are precisely “the poor in spirit” of Matthew.
This phrase, which has often generated controversy almost as if Jesus preached a vague interior detachment while possessing everything or too much, is the full definition of the biblical poor. He is not just simply miserable; instead, he is the one who concretely detaches himself from material possessions, he does not base his security and trust on possessions, success, pride, on the cold idols of gold and power. His heart is not closed and hardened, but always open to God and brethren.
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