Recently, we had the experience of sharing in the birth of little Isaac. What is there not to love in the birth of an infant? But, you know what comes to mind in seeing this, is that each infant, each person in this world is entirely unique. Even identical twins or triplets etc, are individually unique because at gestation everything becomes different for each one. Each person though does have a relationship with God, even if the person chooses not to pursue it. As each of us develops, we are certainly conditioned by family and all our surroundings and experiences. Jesus himself was a unique human being, but even more so as he had a second nature as he was divine also. His life, his work was to make it possible for humans to have a relationship with God. His life seems to have been a period of gradually preparing to do his ministry. After his baptism, we see today he goes off alone to the desert to contemplate, to prepare. As is common in Mediterranean culture and the middle east, the spirit of evil or the devil appears to once again challenge humanity to somehow be equal to God as we saw in the Genesis reading today. As we see in today’s gospel, Jesus rejects the devil and moves on to his ministry.
For us, the gospel and the story of the garden reminds us that as human beings we are vulnerable to overestimate ourselves, to have an inflated notion of our very self, to want to stand out in some way. Yes, our uniqueness can sometimes make us feel more important or even superior to others. We all know that within a family it is important to know and accept each other as they are, and so it is in the family of humanity itself. Christ’s message of love and care of each other means that we live and work and accept others. In doing this, we must learn and accept the abilities of all and the role we play in working together. While we certainly can not solve all the ills of the world, we certainly shouldn’t be adding any to the list. As we look forward to the coming weeks, we should be positive in examining all the good things we do and what more we can do or change to further the kingdom Jesus has given us. This will truly make us ready for Easter Morning.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you”
The kingdom of God is the kingdom we share now in this world, a kingdom of believers called to live out the Word. It means to answer God’s call right now in this life. It is not a call to not care or worry, but a call to place your self in God’s care. Jesus was from the poor of his time, he was aware of the difficulties and problems of daily life and the struggle to survive day to day. All of us have dreams and cares and so to speak a plan for life and living. But, I ask you, how many people do you know who mapped out a plan at 20, were still in the parameters of that plan at 50? Life is unpredictable and changing. All of us do the best to prepare and live accordingly. A certain amount of anxiety is normal, but nothing we do will completely remove the anxiety unless we place ourselves in God’s plan. No amount of wealth possessions and even power assures a long healthy life with a successful career. Only by doing our best and living as best we can within the precepts of Jesus’ commands are we assured of the true comfort of God. It is always a battle to not put ourselves first all the time and see the needs of others. Yet, the poor, the hungry, the homeless in one way or another find a way to get by because of the goodness of God and good people who see the need to help out and share with those in need. Jesus was always harsh on the Pharisees and scribes simply because their concern was themselves and their immediate comfort. Their own self planning overlooked those for whom they were called to look after. As Jesus pointed out, instead of relieving struggles, they added to them. Thus, Jesus called for love, and service, for a life of walking together as sister and brother amid all the days of life.
When we are wronged, most of us really get our back up and want justice or revenge. We get so angry, we want the most extreme punishment possible. In Leviticus, to temper anger and even out justice, we hear the dictum ”eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” It was not meant as a prescription, but a restriction of what we do. A person could not exact a penalty, harsher than what was done to harm. Yet, how often do we hear these words used to justify actions and revenge even today. Sure we heard Jesus say them, but what followed? He said don’t resist evil! If challenged with the law give in, if forced into service as the Romans used to do, just do it. Don’t turn your back on those who wish to borrow. The hardest thing of all, he tells us to love our neighbor. But, he tells us our neighbor includes our enemies. How could that be? Well God created both our loved ones and our enemies. God gave the world to both good and evil people. If as Jesus says, we love only those who love back, what good is that.
God’s love is embedded into our hearts with Baptism and the coming of the Spirit. God’s love takes over and with prayer we come to know and discern what is right. Love tells us the things we must do, it helps us navigate through a whole life’s journey. God’s love enables us to journey through the minefields of life today. Modern day Pharisees and Scribes at times seem to burden humanity just as the people of Israel were once so burdened. Jesus call and commandments are no less essential today as they were when He was put to death for daring to challenge the comfort of written the love God implanted on all our hearts. Finally Jesus said be perfect, as God is perfect. We know such an ideal is impossible yet are we called to any less?
Several years ago, I moved into a rectory in Philadelphia. In every room, there was a curled pipe or more coming out of the walls configured to become a lamp. In the 19th century, these lamps were used to light the house by gas. It was only in the beginning of the 1900’s that electricity came to the city and its houses. I bring it up because we take light and seeing for granted. For centuries, and even now in some parts of the world, light is only something they have for half a day. The light of a fireplace or a candle or an oil lamp is certainly not the convenience we have today. “You are the light of the world” put into the context of Jesus time takes some thinking. Imagine walking or being outside with only the moon or stars to see around us. How crippled were we with our last power outage? Yet in Jesus’ time, a far off fire or lamp would be all they could see. The light that his followers were meant to be was one that penetrated the darkness and ultimately gave hope or showed the way. We take it so much for granted, but light is essential.
Also, for salt. In biblical times, salt did a lot more than season food. In fact, they also used it to preserve food in an age when of course there was no refrigeration. No only that, but it was used in making the fuel that they used in their ovens to cook the food. Only when it was used up and lost it usefulness was it thrown away and trod underfoot. It was another everyday necessity that Jesus used that for us is simply another spice we get at the grocery store. But really, again Jesus chose something at the root of his time, saying that we are at the root of our time.
Being essential and at the root of our time is not easy. To dispel darkness, to witness is no easier today than in past centuries. Humanity at times listens and at other times goes its own way. However, as Christians the Holy Spirit has come to each of us and has made it possible for love to embolden and enable us to move forward. That love enables the reaching out to those who are poor, hungry or in some other dire need. For us the spirit calls to do what we can for those who can not always do for themselves.
Today, we hear the beatitudes, the beginning of the Sermon on the mount. We must be careful of how we consider the beatitudes. Sometimes people look at them almost as rules or a set of commandments Jesus is giving. Some how they say Jesus is condemning wealth, etc. However, Jesus is expressing how we are blessed to be seeking out God. Just look at the first one, Blessed are the poor in Spirit. Those would be those who know and reach out to fill up their lives by coming to know God and what is the real fulfillment in life. Blessedness comes not from worldly fulfillment, but from our inner self, our soul reaching out and being filled up by the love of God. More typically, those seeking God and his love are often times the real poor, the people on the fringes of life and society, the neglected, the humble, the persecuted, the outsider. Those who have found comfort in life and action, have either found God or replaced him with “things”. Those blessed to live a life challenged by love and seeking God in all stages will in one way or another be comforted or find the kingdom of heaven. Living in poverty, seeking meekness, mourning, and the other blessings of the beatitudes are not
rules for living but blessings bestowed to prepare us to hear the good news Jesus will give in his preaching to come. His message is for all, but first a person must be ready in one way or another to be disposed to hear and live the word Jesus speaks. In Jesus time, society was divided in so many ways, it is hard to realize what all those divisions meant in learning the Good News. Jesus spoke mostly to Jews, but there were priests, pharisees, elders, and all kind of people plus Romans, slaves or other visitors from the Roman world. Ultimately, Jesus knew that not all were ready and he would die. He knew that some would hear and believe and his good news would carry on. But the beatitudes remain to remind us of the disposition we need to hear and follow the Word of Jesus.