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“It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with cancer that I realized how many people loved me.” A former parishioner said these words when I visited him in the hospital many years ago. While no one enjoys it when bad things happen to them, these situations often do help people realize how much their family and friends care for them. Given this, in a certain sense, perhaps they could be regarded as a blessing.
In our Gospel this Sunday for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we read Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes. (Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes differs from Luke’s in that in Matthew’s account has 9 blessings, while Luke’s account contains 4 blessings and 4 woes.) While the Beatitudes are very poetic and beautiful, if we’re honest I suspect that if we didn’t know they were the words of Jesus, most of us would regard them as illogical or even absurd. Who would believe that those who experience the conditions mentioned in the Beatitudes are “blessed?” In the Beatitudes, though, Jesus suggests that these are qualities of his disciples. As importantly, while these conditions are not of themselves occasions of grace, Jesus is clear that, in them, his disciples can find and know God’s grace and love.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah. We don’t often read from Zephaniah, who was a prophet during the 7th Century B.C.E. In today’s reading, Zephaniah exhorts the Israelites to remain faithful to the Lord, to observe the law, and to seek justice and humility that they “may be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.”
Our second reading this weekend is once again taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. In it Paul echoes the theme of the Gospel when he tells the people of Corinth “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something……...”
Questions for discussion/reflection:
1. When have you discovered a blessing in what was originally a misfortune?
2. Which of the Beatitudes speaks most clearly to you?
3. Why is God so fond of the lowly and meek?