4th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this
discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that
1st Reading - Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13
Zephaniah (means “Yahweh protects”) is possibly a
descendent of King Hezekiah. He prophesied in Josiah’s reign
(640-609 B.C.), when there was an attempt, serious but of limited
success and duration, to undo the apostasy of Josiah’s
predecessor Manasseh who was the son and successor of Hezekiah.
Manasseh was the worst of all the kings of Judah; he is credited with
the worship of foreign gods, superstition of all kinds, oppression and
murder, he was the occasion of the decision of Yahweh to destroy Judah
(King Manasseh is summarized in 2 Chronicles 33:1-20).
The first of the writing prophets since Isaiah and Micah, Zephaniah
announces the coming of the Day of the Lord, a dread day of catastrophe
for all. Judgment Day for the nations ought to be a warning to the
chosen people and it should lead them back to repentance, obedience and
humility that they so sadly lack and only by which they can survive the
divine visitation. A “remnant” however, will be left to
enjoy the fruits of salvation.
2:3 Seek the LORD, all you humble of the earth, who have observed his law;
Zephaniah is addressing the righteous oppressed – those who are
entirely abandoned to the divine will. Isaiah (61:1) declared that the
messiah would be sent to the lowly – the meek who despite
adversity would hold fast to justice and humility and would withstand
the temptation to adopt as their own the gods of their oppressors.
Seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of
the LORD’S anger. 3:12 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; 13 the remnant of Israel.
The survivors, without earthly possessions, are but a remnant. The
chastisement that comes from the Lord always reflects God’s mercy
They shall do no wrong and speak no lies; Nor shall there be found in
their mouths a deceitful tongue; They shall pasture and couch their
flocks with none to disturb them.
There will be peace. There shall be no lying or deceit; the virtuous, truthful, sincere remnant shall know peace and prosperity.
2nd Reading - 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
The specific needs and circumstances of the Church of Corinth explain
why Paul wrote this letter, why it is structured the way it is, why it
deals with so many different subjects, and is so clearly pastoral in
character. All of the readings during Cycle A deal with divisions among
26 Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by
human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
27 Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise,
“The two most ‘foolish things of the world’ are in
particular the virgin birth of Christ and His resurrection from the
dead. The wise are confounded because they see that what a few of them
deny, the many profess to be true. There is no doubt that the opinions
of the many faithful take precedence over those of a small number.
Likewise, those who are mighty in this world can easily see the
so-called weak things of Christ overturning demons and performing
miracles. To the world the injuries and sufferings of the Savior are
weak things, because the world does not understand that they have
become the source of power through Christ who submitted to suffering in
order to overcome death.” [The Ambrosiaster (A.D. 366-384),
Commentaries on Thirteen Pauline Epistles 1 Corinthians 1,27]
and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, 28 and God
chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing,
to reduce to nothing those who are something, 29 so that no human being
might boast before God.
Few of the educated class in Corinth, few men of authority, few of the
aristocracy, have been called to the faith. But God has called the
lowly, the poor, the slaves, and – most shocking of all –
“those who count for nothing,” the Gentiles. Thus he might
destroy the pretensions of all who account themselves as something.
30 It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus,
From being nonentities the Corinthians are by God’s call and
action transformed into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). In Christ,
the Christian possesses all that the Greek and Jew yearned for: wisdom,
justice, holiness, and redemption.
who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness,
sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written,
“Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”
Sanctification is the embodiment of God’s holiness and the
dispenser of the Spirit of holiness which is imparted at baptism, the
risen Christ has become holiness for us. Christ by His death and
resurrection has freed man from slavery to sin, the flesh, the works of
the Law, and death.
“Christ was made our sanctification, not so that he might change
what he was but that he might sanctify us in the flesh.” [Saint
Ambrose of Milan (A.D. 381), The Holy Spirit 3,4,26]
Gospel - Matthew 5:1-12a
The Gospel of Matthew draws many parallels between the life of Jesus
and the life of Moses. Both have a slaughter of the innocents which
they escape; both fast for 40 days (Moses on Mt. Sinai and Jesus in the
desert); both have a period of trial (for Moses it is 40 years in the
desert, for Jesus it is 40 days in the desert); Moses goes up on the
mountain to receive the word of God, Jesus preaches the word of God in
his Sermon on the Mount.
1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
Sitting is the posture of Oriental teachers. Outdoor teaching was a
hallmark of Jesus’ ministry. A disciple is a learner/pupil and by
extension a follower/adherent. At first glance, one might think that
only the disciples heard this discourse but the presence of the crowds
leads the commentators to believe that the disciples formed an inner
ring around Jesus and the crowds formed one or more concentric outer
2 He began to teach them, saying:
What follows is a formula common in psalms and Old Testament wisdom
literature. A blessing is a bestowal of God’s favor. A covenant
has associated with it both blessings and curses (woes). Blessings for
obeying, and curses for disobedience. Although Matthew doesn’t
show any curses associated with his eight beatitudes, Luke in his
parallel Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-23) has four blessings and four
curses. As members of God’s covenant people, His family, we are
subject both to the blessings and the curses of that covenant. A young
child once told Fr. Ken Roberts that if an object had been blessed,
that meant that it had been “touched by God”. One might try
reading these beatitudes and substituting “touched by God”
everywhere “blessed” appears in order to get a little
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The religious concept of poverty was deeply rooted in the Old
Testament; as our first reading showed. It has more to do with a
religious attitude of neediness and humility toward God than material
poverty. The religious attitude of poverty is closely related to what
is called “spiritual childhood.” A Christian sees himself
as a little child in the presence of God, a child who owns nothing:
everything he has comes from God and belongs to God
4 Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Those who suffer from any kind of affliction – particularly those
who are genuinely sorry for their sins, or are pained by the offenses
which others offer God, and who bear their suffering with love and in a
spirit of atonement.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Those who patiently suffer unjust persecution; those who remain serene,
humble and steadfast in adversity, and do not give way to resentment or
discouragement. Usually irritableness stems from a lack of humility and
interior peace. The “land” is usually understood as meaning
our heavenly fatherland.
6 Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
A righteous person is one who sincerely strives to do the will of God,
which is discovered in the commandments, in one’s duties of state
in life, and through one’s life of prayer.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Mercy is not just a matter of giving alms to the poor but also of being
understanding toward other people’s defects, overlooking them,
helping them cope with them and loving them despite whatever defects
they may have. Being merciful also means rejoicing and suffering with
8 Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Christ teaches us that the source of the quality of human acts lies in
the heart, that is, in a man’s soul, in the depths of his spirit.
Cleanliness of heart is a gift of God, which expresses itself in a
capacity to love, in having an upright and pure attitude to everything
noble. Helped by God’s grace, a Christian should constantly
strive to cleanse his heart and acquire this purity, whose reward is
the vision of God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Those who foster peace, in themselves and in others and, as a basis for
that, try to be reconciled and to reconcile others with God. Look at
the glorious blessing! 1 John 3:1; Romans 8:14-17. Such a reward!
10 Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed is he who suffers persecution for being true to Jesus Christ
and who does so not only patiently but joyfully. Circumstances arise in
a Christian’s life that call for heroism – where no
compromise is admissible: either one stays true to Jesus Christ
whatever the cost in terms of reputation, life or possessions, or one
denies Him. Every Christian who is faithful to Jesus’ teaching is
in fact a “martyr” (a witness) who reflects or acts in
accordance with this beatitude, even if he does not undergo physical
suffering and/or death.
11 Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute
you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me.
There are only eight beatitudes, this is an elaboration of the preceding one.
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.
The last two verses are a summary of the eight beatitudes; an
invitation to put this teaching into practice. The Christian life is no
easy matter, but it is worthwhile, given the reward Jesus promises.
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org