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THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR A (2017)
THE BEATITUDES (MT 5:1-12)
Can we imagine that St. Paul in writing to his fractious Corinthians is asking them to learn something of the mind and heart of Jesus expressed in the beatitudes? He is fairly unsparing in his description of their social condition. It would have seemed a risky way to treat converts. Paul is forthright, knowing that his community is in danger of disintegrating. One of the grievous dangers is pride. Some are rich and clever and presumably causing pain to the simpler folk, the humbler folk, who also joined the community because they had the gift of faith. They were all brought together as members of the Body of Christ. Later we will find him discussing the way the divisions have been manifested among them. Such divisions have been a constant feature of the Christian communions from the beginning. Paul spells out the detail of the differences and writes a splendid hymn on love to show how such differences can be overcome.
The Essence of the Sermon on the Mount
It has been said that the Sermon on the Mount encapsulates the essential of the teaching of Jesus. And the Beatitudes are the essential of the Sermon on the Mount. With these riveting sayings we are given a resume of what Jesus was teaching his followers all during his public ministry. Obviously all the good that he did for others, and so much of the unhappy treatment he received, make up the rest of the gospel story. St Paul rarely cites any of the actual words of the teaching of Jesus. He sums up the gospel story by focusing almost all on the passion and death and resurrection of the Master. And he cites the historical Jesus as his model: be you imitators of me as I am of Christ Jesus-so he exhorts the Corinthians ( 1 Cor 11:1). He must surely have related for them the actual historical data of the life of Jesus when he converted them; in his letters he has only to allude to this. They know it. Now they should put it into practice as he himself does. We recall Jesus in exchange with the Pharisees: all the law and prophets can be subsumed under the two closely connected commandments: love God and love your neighbour (Mt 22:38-40). Paul wrote to the Romans: Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom 13:10).
In every community and every local church as time passes more problems come up. And ultimately they all involve decisions about the best way to love. And this involves seeing what the relationship is between love and law. To make laws is essential for the security of human relationships, necessary for human flourishing. Laws should cover the basic fundamentals for life in society. But life is vastly more than what can be legislated for. The Sermon on the Mount is a presentation of a disposition transcending the obligations of law: above and beyond the call of duty in self-giving is what is expected by Our Lord. That is only possible for someone steeped in the way of self-giving: we give it the name grace…..a specially God-given strength. Christians pray for this every day. It cannot be legislated for. No law could ever force someone to give a life for someone else. When that takes place it is a conscience commitment made by the individual. St.Maximilian KOLBE was a marvellous example of this in Auschwitz…..the memory of which was held on Jan 27th.
Paul in Corinth
When we return to Corinth we see what Paul had to face. How do you put very rich people and their slaves at the same table and call it the Eucharist of the Lord, the feast of love? The history of Christianity is writ large with this problem. Why did and do Christians go to war with each other? Why do they not always worship with each other? Why have they different moral commitments? We experience this every day in our own communities. In America at the moment we see the differences of attitude with regard to President Trump. Would this have been different had it been Mrs Clinton as president? The liberal stance on morals and the conservative stance on commerce galvanise opinion….and how delicate it is to decide what is moral and what is best for all.
We see in Rome the efforts being made to reform the ecclesial administrative machinery that is called the curia. We see in our own country the problem of amalgamating parishes largely due to the shortage of priests, and the anger and distress that what we cherish we lose. We see the refugee crisis, and the good will of so many to do so much, but not knowing what the right thing to do is. But the American bishops disagree with the Trump approach in dealing with the problem. So are we all that different from Corinth in the first century?
Most probably feel very inadequate to engage with these issues. We have enough problems on our own doorstep. Taking care of those nearest and dearest to us takes up most of our time. We try to do what we are supposed to do, at home and at work, as best we can. Generous mindedness and openness of spirit does help the atmosphere we share with everyone else. Happy the merciful...happy the pure of heart…happy the peacemakers….surely we would all subscribe to these sentiments, and rejoice when we meet those who live them out. We know well that many among us do that very well. To come and worship together is a sign of our wanting to belong to a community that shares these values.
Paradoxically the Corinthians did us a great service. What they did not do was to destroy Paul’s correspondence to them. Some must have wanted that; they were not particularly fond of him. In keeping it they displayed what was wrong with themselves. And they also showed Paul’s pastoral care, and his great profession of belief expressed to them: God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself 2 Cor 5:18ff.), and reconciled Corinthians would be a major manifestation of this profound truth.
A happy Sunday to you all. Amen.
Rev Richard J.Taylor
MCI’s Spiritual Advisor,
Boarbank Hall, Cumbria, UK