One of Jesus' most famous orations is the source of inspiration for the encouragement that is offered to us today. Let us dare to look deeply within, and to discover the joy of being disciples and making a difference in the world.
The view from here
This morning’s gospel passage is one of the most well-known and most often quoted of Jesus’ teachings. It took place on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, in the northern part of the country we know today as Israel. Jesus had grown up to the south of Galilee, but it was on the shores of this Sea, which is actually an inland lake, that he spent much of the time that we have come to know about – his adult years, the years of his public ministry.
Last November, a group of us visited a number of the places along those shores. Despite the fact that there had not been any rain in that region since May, and that most of the rest of the landscape was brown and parched, the Mount of the Beatitudes – the place where the words of today’s gospel were spoken – was still lush and green, dotted with palm trees: an oasis in the midst of a desert.
The Mount of the Beatitudes is actually more like a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. On the day we were there, the sky was brilliant blue and the sun was warm and inviting. Even today, visitors can imagine the scene as people would have been gathered on that hillside, much like us who are gathered here in this church, listening to the words Jesus spoke. There was something different about these words: they were not filled with political promises; they did not stir fear in the hearts of those who heard them. Rather, these are words of encouragement for a people who have otherwise been beaten down, words of promise for a people who have had very little hope, words of praise for a people who have heard nothing but threats.
The hillside of Jesus’ sermon has been transported to this place. This morning, these words are offered to this crowd: to you and to me. If we look deep within our hearts, perhaps we are the ones this morning who are poor in spirit (Mt 5:3): aware of all the challenges that we must face, but confident that if we turn to God in our time of need, he will hear us. Perhaps we are mourning (Mt 5:4) because someone we have known and loved has died, or perhaps there has been a breakup in our marriage, or perhaps a very good friend has moved away. Perhaps we have encountered the great grace of meekness (Mt 5:5), not the sense of powerlessness that leads to despair but rather the sense of humility: the knowledge that each of us has something unique to offer, a gift that God has given us so that we in turn can help someone else to discover him. Perhaps we are aware of others who have been unjustly treated by the society around us (Mt 5:6) and we truly want to help, but we’re not sure what we can do. Maybe we have a decision to make about whether to exact vengeance for some way in which we have been wronged, or whether there is a way that we would make a more profound statement by practicing mercy and forgiveness (Mt 5:7). There may even be a current situation in our lives where we are being tempted to doubt whether things are truly as they seem; instead of giving in to the temptation to judge, perhaps this is the time when we should pray for the grace to remain pure in heart (Mt 5:8). All of us face situations from time to time when we encounter division and quarreling. These are most painful when they occur in our families and among those who are closest to us. It would be much easier for us to bury our heads in the sand, to ignore the elephant in the room, but Jesus challenges us to find ways to be peacemakers (Mt 5:9), even if it should mean that we might end up being persecuted as a result of the fact that we chose to act out of a sense of doing what was right.
This weekend, after the Masses, we invite you to join us for a pancake breakfast. It’s being sponsored by the North Bay Right to Life. Our faith teaches us to respect the sanctity of life at all moments from conception to natural death, yet there are times when choosing to do so means that we will most certainly face persecution (Mt 5:10).
It’s never been easy to be a follower of Jesus; yet, we count on the encouragement that He offers: Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad: your reward will be great in heaven (Mt 5:11-12).