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Homily: “On the Sermon on the Mount”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time) Year A, 2017.

Let us see in this Sermon from Jesus that His first extended teaching, recounted here by Saint Matthew, is explicitly directed to disciples. We know that Jesus was always aware of His audience—whether He was speaking to the crowds in Parables, or whether He was speaking to His close disciples and explaining the Parables and offering intense spiritual direction. Although it seems that some sort of crowd is present, let us understand this Sermon on the Mount, as it has been called, as primarily for those who are seeking to delight in His will and walk in His ways to the glory of His holy Name. We will be spending today and the next three Sundays working through the Sermon on the Mount. Let us understand it not as pronouncement intended primarily for any one merely with ears, but those who have already heard the voice of the Good Shepherd and who have begun to follow Him.

In other words, let us see the primary audience as those who have recognized that God is calling them. As God called Saint Paul the Apostle from his ways of persecuting Christians, He calls the weak in the world to shame the strong. He chooses the low and despised. He chooses not those who are wise to worldly standards, but those who are humble, detached, and sensitive to spiritual things. The humble, the detached, the sensitive to spiritual things—these are the “poor in spirit,” and theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It is not that the poor in spirit must be poor in spirit first before they can follow Jesus. These beatitudes are not entrance requirements to being disciples. All of God’s human creatures have in them the capacity to be humble, detached, and sensitive to spiritual things. All creatures can be poor in spirit.

All creatures can mourn. Not all do, we know quite clearly. But all can. All have the potential to be sympathetic and compassionate, and have an acute sense of the tragedy of life—for that it what it means to mourn; such mourners do not merely recognize tragedy and do nothing else, but they pray, they intercede: and they are comforted knowing that God is a loving God, who loves all who are suffering, loves all in calamity, loves all in any pain or grief—those who mourn ask God to grant His healing grace to all who are sick, injured, or disabled, that they may be made whole.

Indeed all creatures can also be meek—that is, they can understand the joy of humility. Not all do, but all have that capacity, all have that potential. Jesus speaks to all but it is His disciples who hear Him, and hear in His words their own capacity to be like Blessed Mary, the model of all discipleship, and to strive at all times to be humble, not filled with pride. Pride does not let God in to our lives and into our wounds; pride separates us from God. Humility acknowledges we are wounded, humility lets God in to our deepest pain, our deepest hurt. The meek say Yes to God; yes to His ability to restore to wholeness whatever is broken by human sin, in our lives, in our nation, and in the world.

All people can be restored to wholeness. Not all crave it in the Christian sense of restoration, but it is available to all people. Yet it is those who hunger and thirst for this wholeness—hunger and thirst for progress toward union with God—that truly hear Jesus. And in hearing Jesus, they are filled with hope, and grow in their ability to be hopeful as a habit. While anxiety is a perfectly understandable human reaction to the vicissitudes of life, and the reality of being a Christian in the world today, to dwell in anxiety is to be separated from God. God is active and present everywhere and in all places. We cannot escape His guiding hand even if we wanted to. God always is reaching out His loving arms to us from the cross, always wanting to bring us closer to His loving and most sacred heart.

Our task is to learn to recognize the gift that has already been given us. God gives us His gift in ways innumerable, often in ways that seem strange or alien to us. Through our formation in the Faith, God makes us pure in heart. He invites us to be regular in our religion—constant in our prayer of breaking bread, constant in our daily prayer, and constant in our devotion to Him as He lives and moves and has His being in those around us. The purpose of the liturgical pattern of the Church is to teach us how to pray, to teach us how to recognize His presence in what is strange or alien. All people have the capacity to be pure in heart—that is, constant in their encounter with God; not all do at any given time; those that do hear Jesus.

We promise in our Baptism to try to hear Jesus in all persons, making no exceptions. That is often not very easy to do, yet learning how to do this is the purpose of the Exchange of the Peace during the Mass. And make no mistake: being able through grace to find Jesus in even one person on a given day is a tremendous gift. Each time we find Jesus in another person, the peace of Christ grows in the world. All people can be peacemakers, and we wish that more people would be, particularly those in leadership positions. Christian disciples hear Jesus, feel His peace, and want to foster His infectious peace everywhere in the world.

Brothers and sisters, through Jesus let us be strong; let us have fortitude amid the suffering of the world, and let us seek God’s creativity to remedy this suffering. If we feel we already let God into our lives, ask Him to teach you how to let Him in still further. All we must seek is Him. All His rewards He wants to give us, but His rewards only come to those who have learned not to want rewards, but only to want God. Seek not rewards: seek only God, and the blessings of God will be bestowed upon us, and bestowed abundantly. Amen.

The cover image “The Sermon On the Mount” by Carl Heinrich Bloch is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.