Homily for 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, 2023
The last few weeks we have been looking at the idea of being a witness. We had St John the Baptist describing his encounter with Christ. Last week, we considered the witness of being healed by God. Last week, we also had Jesus telling people to repent, repent being a translation of the Greek word metanoia which really means change my heart, my mind, my whole approach and attitude towards life. So, what does that mean? What does a change of heart look like? What kind of a witness does this give? One way to answer this is to look at the Beatitudes, which we see in today’s Gospel.
Part of Christian witness is pointing out the new life of the Kingdom of God. And the form of the witness is just living this type of life, a form of life that is fundamentally different from that of world. The most radical example of this is the religious vocation, where the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience exemplify what it will be to live in the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps the same can be said of the Beatitudes. Like the evangelical counsels, the Beatitudes describe the reality of what it means to live in communion with God, a reality that starts with baptism and continues forever. So, what is this kind of witness?
I would like to suggest that it is the witness of fidelity to truth and love, a fidelity that cannot help but reveal the impossibility of the world achieving these things, and so therefore finally a witness to hope, a trust in God, that the promise revealed in the Beatitudes will be fulfilled.
When we really love something good and either want to preserve it or bring it about, we soon realise that our own efforts are completely necessary but never sufficient. And on the really important things, we begin to understand that the world is not sufficient. For instance, as soon as one person is killed, we know we cannot have true justice on our own efforts. But that raises the question: given the impossibility of achieving this from our own efforts, do we settle for something less? And we are always tempted to settle, especially when the effort is hard or in an area that does not interest us, or that we are not good at.
The key point is that we are tempted to settle when we cannot succeed, or even succeed easily. When the goal seems beyond us, then we adjust our goals. But the Beatitudes tell us that some goals are not just worth it, but that success or failure is beside the point. The Beatitudes tell us that there is only one way to happiness, to communion with God, and so there is absolutely no point in settling for something else, going the wrong way.
The Beatitudes then provide us with what communion with God in this life looks like. It is realising that we are poor in spirit, that we need God. It is in being gentle in an often cold and vicious world that we image Christ, the Lamb who was lead to the slaughter.
It is in mourning over the injustice in the world, most especially mourning over our sins, our participation in this injustice, that we realise that things are not what they should be. Through this, we show we need God to intervene. It is in being merciful, in seeking out the good of the other person more than our own, that we begin to understand the impossible challenge of real charity. We begin to ask God to take our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh.
It is in striving to live this every day, to purify our hearts to will one thing, that we realise how distracted and fragmented we are, such that we need deep healing of our wills and out attention. It is in striving for peace over competition and conflict that we come to understand how competitive and egocentric we are, and again how much work needs to be done on us before we truly love our neighbours as God’s children.
And finally it is only when we have to suffer, really suffer for these things that we can know, can witness even to ourselves that we believe what we say, that we are truly on the side of right and not of comfort. Only then can we look Jesus in the eyes of our poor brothers and sisters and say that we stand with them and, like Christ on the Cross, that we are not going anywhere. This is the rich soil in which humility can take root.
The Beatitudes therefore give us a picture of what life in Christ and with Christ on earth looks like. As with the Eucharist, it is a picture of us giving our all, of living fully, of realising our need of communion with God, and then living out of the hope that that realisation gives. These moments – of poverty, gentleness, of peace, and suffering – these true offerings of ourselves are revelations of what our hearts really hunger for. They are revelations then of what we are made for. And we shouldn’t settle for anything else.
Let’s pray then for the gift of fidelity to God’s word, a fidelity that will open our eyes to the true state of ourselves and our deep need of God’s love. This more than anything will make us witness to the reality that God alone can satisfy us, God alone can make us blessed. But we have to go all in as we do in Mass.