Matthew 5:1-12a, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I remember once being completely taken by an evangelical youth group that somehow made me feel and think that I was completely invincible. And because of that, albeit in the “name of Jesus” completely “happy.” After having received Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, I was convinced that all I had to do was claim power and victory—in the name of Jesus—over every created thing and over any temptation that stood in the way of the full Lordship of God’s only begotten Son. There were no doubts; only certitude as revealed in the scriptures. Pain and illness? No sweat. In the name of Jesus, those things went away. Even mosquitoes. Yes, in the name of Jesus, they were–I can still remember the quasi-magical word–“abjured.” Convinced that I was saved, I felt free, powerful and consequently, very happy.
That did not last long, fortunately. The first fervor of my new-found faith soon gave way to more pressing concerns in college life. Questions started taking on greater depth and meaning than easy solutions or explanations. I grew up. So did my faith. In all fairness though I don’t think I received what our ministers preached quite correctly and only heard, I suppose, what I wanted to hear. Confronted in prayer one day by the Beatitudes, I realized to my horror and shame that I was more interested in being comforted, in inheriting the land, in being satisfied and treated rightly, in seeing God, being called God’s child (no less), inheriting God’s kingdom and reaping all the rewards that came with the inheritance. I literally had my own “take” on the Beatitudes and upturned what they had meant to counter as values of the world.
Surprisingly, that deep realization of my skewed sense of salvation was in itself salvific. My felt need for redemption and healing from selfishness was met, not with condemnation nor ridicule but only with loving acceptance and mercy. Essentially, I began to understand that it is not just about what I did or did not do; nor just about what I really thought, expected, needed or genuinely wanted; but rather, more about who God is and what God can, does, and will do. Paul put it quite well saying that we could boast, if at all, only in Jesus in whom we find “God’s wisdom, our righteousness, sanctification and redemption.”
Pondering the Beatitudes–traditionally referred to as the “Ethics of the Kingdom” or the “Laws of Discipleship” in Theology classes back in the day–I appreciate more than ever that the stringent moral demands of the kingdom, i.e., to be poor in spirit, meek, merciful, clean of heart, etc., follow, and not precede, the basic proclamation of Good news: The Kingdom is at hand (Matthew 4, 17). What comes first is the gospel, the glad tidings of what God has done for us; what follows is the fitting response of desperate people who have been surprised by goodness and joy.
Nowadays, I feel and know that I am anything but vincible. Doubts have become more real. Pains here and there, and gratefully, not too serious illnesses have become all too frequent visitors. But then I suppose, they are hardly enough to make me miserable or unhappy. Every now and then, and with much gratitude, I am indeed surprised by goodness and joy, even in spite of myself.