Saturday, February 2, 2008

Citizens of the Kingdom

(4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A)

Last week we heard the beginning and central message of Jesus’ preaching: Jesus appears with the message, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” The Kingdom of God, which is the destiny of all creation, us included, and is mysteriously present among us now, is the heart of the Gospel.

Today, in Matthew’s Beatitudes, we hear a description of the citizens of this Kingdom. In these proclamations of who is blessed, we hear about what someone who lives in the Kingdom of God looks and acts like, and thus we hear about the attitudes to which all of us Christians must aspire.

First of all, the citizens of the Kingdom of God are “blessed.” The word in the original Greek is makarios, and it’s just as easily translated as “happy.” My dictionary defined makarios as “blessed, happy, or fortunate.” That’s the first thing to know about being a Christian, a citizen of the kingdom of God: we are blessed, happy, and fortunate for the call we have received to Holy Communion with God in Christ. And that’s why the primary attitude of the Christian is always gratitude.

The Christian is “poor in spirit.” That is, before God we have the stance and attitude of poor people, who do not have what they need and who have to beg necessities from others. We know that only the grace of God saves us, and it is only his Sacred Heart that offers the rest that our hearts desire. We do not worship the false God of security, whether it be financial security, personal security, or national security, this false God that tells us we can make ourselves safe and fortunate in this world.

No, only God. Only God has what we truly desire, and we are all poor before God. So instead of the arrogance, the self-righteousness, and the insanity of peace through war that the children of the kingdom of this world offer us, we Christians are poor in spirit. We strive for this attitude through prayer, begging the grace from God to be “clean of heart,” so that we may be those who are blessed by our “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” rather than the hunger and thirst to protect and please ourselves that the world recommends.

The citizens of the Kingdom of God mourn and are merciful. They are those who allow their hearts to break when they see and hear of the suffering of others. If we are to be true Christians we need to let the suffering and misery of others affect us. We need to let ourselves be hurt by all of the poverty and suffering and misery present in our world, because this is the first step to compassion, to praying for the suffering, and to seeking ways to give them the peace and salvation God desires for them.

Finally, the citizens of the Kingdom of God are meek, and are peacemakers. They are those who look for opportunities to not return evil for evil, hurt for hurt. Christians seek to break cycles of violence and hurt in their families, their communities, and among nations. If we are to call ourselves Christians we must recognize that the peace the world talks about isn’t real peace, but just the absence of conflict. The peace that God gives is so much more; it is a positive force for ending violence and producing gentleness and kindness.

These Beatitudes are a tall order. They challenge us to change our minds about how we look at ourselves and at the world. And if we follow them, we can be sure that we will share in some of the misunderstanding and persecution that the Lord himself experienced among us. Maybe we won’t be martyrs for the faith, but if we take being disciples of the Lord seriously, we can be sure that some people will mock us, some will insult us, and many, many just won’t get it. And when this happens, we know we are especially fortunate, most happy, and blessed by the Lord more than ever.

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