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Ordinary Time 4 (A)
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Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1. Zephaniah 2, 3 and 3, 12-13

  • Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth.  The prophet seems to say that God favors these, rather than the high and mighty.    
  • Here among my listeners are people who patiently wait, little ones, unlike the great and influential among us.  This message is also addressed to them.
  • Sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.  Once again we are reminded about the end of the ages, when it will become clear that God commands time and sets the terms of engagement.
  • I will leave a remnant in your midst.  Let me remember who was finally saved to survive the exile and keep Israel’s traditions alive.  Clue: they were not kings.
  • A people who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord.  These marginal ones live amid empires, remaining, surviving to fight another day.  Modern Israelis may take pride in the story of the Masada resistance, but who would remember the people if all of them had perished in that way?
  • Doing no wrong, speaking no lies.  I hear of actions of integrity and faithfulness to the teachings.  This is not a downtrodden people, passive before the buffeting they have received, merely coasting along or driven by events.  When we depend on God, we take decisive action.
  • Central point: All three readings are in agreement: God favors the little ones.
  • Message for our assembly: Do we identify with and depend on the Lord?  To what degree?
  • I will challenge myself: To use less bombast in my delivery, and more expressions of intimacy.

2. I Corinthians 1, 26-31

  • Consider your own calling.  The apostle speaks to an ancient church and we overhear.  What benefit can we derive?  In this passage we learn how the church began, though it has changed thoroughly in makeup over the centuries.  Since I think there is a positive message for us here, I will direct it to everyone with my sweeping gaze. 
  • Not many of you were wise by human standards.  We can see God’s purpose in those being called.  Some are critical thinkers and others accept easily the traditions they have received.  Example: Was Juan Diego a real person or a legendary figure?  Whatever our opinion, we are all here in this house of prayer.  The apostle says not many with understatement, and so should I.
  • Not many powerful or of noble birth.  These days we are being courted with great persistence and expense by people who seek political power – at least until we finish casting our votes.  Let us banish the illusion of control.
  • Reducing to nothing those who are something.  God uses the believers to upset those values.  In other words, God has selected not the winners but the also-ran, the casi ganadores.  The message of the kingdom of God has the same purpose.
  • Due to him.  Let me read this as a connector from one set of thoughts (God’s action) to another (achieved in Jesus).  Despite the literal translation, my purpose here is not to affirm the so-called masculinity of God.
  • You are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God.  Make sure I use an affirming voice when I say “who,” to avoid raising a non-existent question.
  • Wisdom from God.  All the states of salvation that follow result from a transformation of the standards we honor on earth.  Earlier in the letter the apostle identified this wisdom with “Christ crucified.”
  • And how do I esteem the exercise of my own ministry?  All that I have of any worth in declaring and reaching the assembly comes from God.  Let me work on this reading so that I make it point back to the God who showers gifts on us.
  • Central point: God chose  Our calling is in God’s hands.  It is not just a matter of saving us out of the world, because by the example of our lives we will set the world’s values straight. 
  • The message for our assembly: Let us take some time to compare our standards of achievement with those set by Jesus.
  • I will challenge myself: To read as if I am presenting these values to a congregation that may not yet have assimilated them.

Gospel. Matthew 5, 1-12

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Ah, for the umpteenth time, the Beatitudes!  Let me not think that I will succeed in making it sound completely new and inspiring to my assembly.  They think they know it, as I think I know it.  Will I rehearse any less for that reason? 
  • He began to teach them.  Who are today’s most admired men and women?  Would they be the powerful, the kingmakers, those with a steely disposition, with the ability to destine their subordinates to good fortune, or misery and death?  Let me compare Jesus with the motivational speakers who fill auditoriums.  They tell us we are good and honest and only need to set goals for ourselves.  And Jesus?
  • I will avoid saying BlessÚd at all costs.  “Fortunate,” “Lucky,” even “Blest” are closer to the reality intended by the evangelist.  Let me speak instead “Blest.”
  • I must not sugarcoat the life to which we are called: poor in spirit, those who mourn, hunger and thirst, peacemakers, persecuted, insulted.  Nor should I dramatize it.  I only need to tell it as it is, remembering that Jesus followed this path and brought countless men and women along with him.  Will someone in our midst be moved to study this way more closely and adopt it for a lifetime?
  • What do they inherit?  Kingdom of heaven, the earth, satisfaction, mercy, the sight of God, the status of children.  Once again, we are in touch with God’s standards.  No room here for “happiness,” “self-fulfillment,” “achievement.”
  • Central point: There is a complete reversal of human standards going on here.
  • Message for our assembly: Do we hear and accept this?  Do we really want this?  Or do we shunt the message aside and merely celebrate the messenger?
  • I will challenge myself: To avoid dramatics.  Just let my listeners hear the drum beat of revolution.  Let me avoid a sing-song pattern.  I must act as if I’ve been down this road, even for a little way.  And, for God’s sake, let me believe what I am saying.

From Word to Eucharist: We approach the Lord’s table, repenting in humility and reverence.  Let us realize that God expects no less than that from us.

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