Weekend of 29 January 2017

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time | Year A

Matthew 5:1-12

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:

‘How happy are the poor in spirit;
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:
they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy are those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
Happy are those who hunger and thirst for what is right:
they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers:
they shall be called sons of God.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’


The repeated use of the word “happy” is striking in the words that Jesus spoke to the crowd from his seat on the hill.  Parts of Jesus’ prescription for happiness is are attractive, like being gentle and merciful, whereas others are harder to equate with happiness. Most of us would not feel happy being abused, persecuted or maligned.  

These words of Jesus are often portrayed as a description of what a Christian should be, with the emphasis on being gentle and merciful.  The strong sentences about “hunger and thirst for what is right” and being “persecuted in the cause of right” are overlooked. 
The sermon on the mount is a package. We cannot select the appealing parts and ignore the hard parts. What Jesus said to the people that day - and to us - is like an expansion of the words of the prophet Micah written centuries earlier: “What then does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). These three aspects of the spiritual life were also an integrated package for Micah. 
Millions of words have been written about happiness and millions of advertisements in the media all over the world target the human desire for happiness.  If we have made a commitment to following Jesus it is easy to see through the “have more” (= buy more) approach of the media’s happiness merchants. It is harder to deal with our own natural tendency to shy away from the demands that justice places on the followers of Christ, and the potential consequences for us of acting justly.
As followers of Christ we cannot be truly happy in the presence of injustice, especially if it is possible for us to do something about it. Acting in the cause of right requires courage and commitment. It begins with awareness and the willingness to take small steps in our daily lives, perhaps by addressing injustices which can be found in our family or workplace or a local aspect of a global issue.  
God has an amazing way of helping us to grow into new aspects of discipleship if we take the first few steps, no matter how small.