The first of the Church’s scriptures for today is an excerpt from the book of the
Old Testament prophet, Zephaniah. Zephaniah spoke the Lord’s word of truth in
the years preceding a horrific catastrophe- the destruction of the Kingdom
established by David by the armies of Babylon. This catastrophe is foreseen by
Zephaniah, but he discerns more than destruction- God will act, the prophet
testifies, God will act to effect the restoration of his people. But this restoration
will not produce an Israel like before, worldly, pre-occupied with wealth, pleasure,
power and honors, but an Israel that will manifest to the world their relationship
with God through humility and lowliness. The mighty kingdom of David will pass
away, but the remnant, what appears to the world to be nothing and nobodies,
will be precisely the means through which God reveals himself to the world.
In other words, Zephaniah understood the catastrophe that the Israelites would
face, the loss of everything the world considered to be important, to be not just a
loss, but an opportunity. Stripped of worldliness, Israel might become what God
had intended his people to be- true representatives to the world of the one, living
and true God. Bereft of the distractions of wealth, pleasure, power and honor,
the Israelites might better appreciate and understand what it truly mean to be
God’s chosen people.
The lesson in all this for us is properly understood by correlating or connecting
what the prophet Zephaniah says to the Israelites and to the Church. The
prophet’s words are for us- for the Church (and by Church I do not mean just the
hierarchy, but all the baptized). How are we enamored by worldliness? How
much of our time and efforts is spent in pursuit of wealth, pleasure, power and
honors? And what does our attainment of worldly things contribute to our
mission as representatives of God in the world? The prophet insists that the
chosen people of God will make him known in humility and lowliness- what would
the prophet make of us? What does God make of us?
The Church’s second scripture is from the New Testament letter of St. Paul to the
Corinthians. In this text, the Apostle Paul speaks of a reality that appears to the
worldly to be foolish and weak, a nothing and a nobody, contemptible and
despised. What is this reality of held in such contempt by the worldly?
It is Christ and those who belong to him- Christ and his Church.
However, what appears to so worthy of the world’s contempt, is in actual fact,
God and his chosen people. In other words, the worldly have got everything
wrong- what the worldly think is power is actually their own weakness, and what
the world thinks is glory, is actually their own foolish pride. What the worldly
think matters most, doesn’t actually matter all that much at all.
In Christ, God reveals himself to the world in a way that confounds and confuses
all the expectations of who God is and what he is supposed to do. In Christ, God
makes himself small, in fact, he makes himself seem like a nothing or a nobody,
going so far to allow himself to be maligned, tortured and executed, all so that he
can reveal his power over death, and in doing so, show the worldly just how
empty their own claims to power really and truly are.
As it is with Christ, so it is with his Church. Real power, divine power in the
Church is not revealed by those who manage her wealth, preside over her
bureaucracies, or who receive the most in terms of public attention. Real power,
divine power, in the Church is foremost revealed in her Sacraments and in her
Saints- for in her Sacraments and Saints, the Church is most like Christ. The world,
indeed many in the Church, think little of either the Sacraments or the Saints,
preferring the Church’s wealth and power as their preoccupation, but true power
resides in the Sacraments and the Saints. The worldly cannot see and appreciate
this, but to those who are faithful to Christ- they see things rightly and they
appreciate and they understand.
Finally, the Church presents to us a select passage from the Gospel of Matthew-
and it is one of the most cherished and renowned passages in the Gospel!
The Gospel for today are the Lord Jesus’ own words concerning beatitude or
blessedness. In other words, how does one discern God’s favor?
Whom does God single out for his particular attention? Who are the ones that
God chooses to be the means through which he reveals his will and his purposes?
The answer to this is revealed to us by God in Christ in today’s Gospel.
The worldly insist that divine favor is manifested in worldly attainments- in
wealth, in pleasure, in power and in honors. The worldly prize success in terms of
worldly attainments- who is the richest, who is the most powerful, who is it that is
recognized and rewarded, who is it that lives in comfort and security? The
worldly consider such success as blessedness, as beatitude. These things
represent God’s favor and having these things is the measure, the evidence of
blessedness or beatitude.
But God in Christ reveals something else entirely. God in Christ identifies himself
with those who often have little of what the worldly deem to be valuable and
important. In his beatitudes, in his revelation of who is truly blessed by God and
why, Christ overturns our expectations of who has divine favor and what it really
means to be in an authentic and true relationship with God.