Zephaniah 2,3; 3,12-13
1 Corinthians 1,26-31
The Beatitudes constitute the great synthesis of the proclamation and of the message of Jesus. They are at the same time grace and commitment, good news for the poor and plan of life for the humble and pure of heart. The beatitudes are not an accumulation of norms and laws that should be observed scrupulously. Neither are they a list of the duties of the Christian before God. The Beatitudes celebrate the primacy of the grace of God who chooses the poor to carry out his plan of salvation and of life. They are the great programmatic proclamation of Jesus that seeks to create a world of persons who are open and available, free and generous.
The first reading (Zep 2,3; 3,12-13) is a classic oracle of the Prophet Zephaniah in which we find one of the most brilliant descriptions of the “spirit of poverty” in the Old Testament. The “poor of the earth”, the anawim, are the persons who are humble and open to God, “those who observe his law” (Zep 2,3) and hope in him. It is through these poor ones that a new humanity will be born, “a people humble and lowly who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord” (Zep 3,12).
“Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth” (Zep 2,3) is the announcement that the Prophet Zephaniah addresses to Israel immersed in an epoch of political, social and religious lethargy, in the 7th century B.C. They, the humble and lowly, the remnant of Israel, are the true sign of hope for the whole nation and a living expression of the presence of the Lord in the midst of his people.
The second reading (1 Corinthians 1,26-31) forms part of the line of argument used by St Paul against the attitude of religious self-sufficiency of the Corinthians and the excessive value they gave to knowledge and to the rhetoric of the preachers, which has brought them to divide the community in small groups and, what is worse, to forget “the wisdom of the cross”. God has not manifested himself through the greatness of rhetoric or the imposition of power but, in the limits of anguish and of annihilation of the cross of Jesus, he had wanted to show the power of his love to save men and women.
This “wisdom” or “logic” of the cross is also manifested in the gratuitous calling of the Christians by God. The members themselves of the community of Corinth are the best argument to prove the validity of the wisdom of the cross as the constitutive principle of the Christian life and of the ecclesial community. None of them could boast about titles, personal merits or social class to justify their calling, since “mankind can do no boasting before God” (v. 29). With reason, Paul concludes saying: “God it is who has given you life in Christ Jesus” (v. 30).
The gospel (Mt 5, 1-12) brings us to the very beginning of the preaching of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus, seated and surrounded by his disciples and by the multitude that follow him, proclaims from a mountainside the fundamental principles of the gospel of the Kingdom. His is not a moral discourse, nor a simple page of doctrinal catechesis. Using a literary genre known in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the macarism (Ps 1,1; 32,12; Prov 3,3), he begins his ministry by proclaiming the Kingdom as a way of happiness for men and women. It is a way with which, in the Bible, one is felicitated because of a gift which he has received (Mt 13,16; 16,17) or to declare blessed a group of persons for a particular reason (Mt 11,6; Lk 11,28). With the beatitudes Jesus proclaims who are the persons who find themselves in a more favourable situation to receive the gift of the Kingdom of God.
The formulations of Matthew (Mt 5,1-12) and of Luke (Lk 6,20-26), who offer us two versions of the beatitudes, help us to go back to the prophetic stadium where Jesus pronounced them in person. At this level, the objective of Jesus was not to indicate the virtues necessary to enter the Kingdom, but to proclaim publicly who were the favoured persons –therefore happy– owing to the definitive saving intervention of God. Jesus, in effect, presents himself as the Messiah sent to the poor, the privileged of the liberating action of God (Mt 11,5). The two versions, that of Matthew and that of Luke, do not reach to their true meaning if they are not placed in relation with Jesus and the original context of the proclamation of the Kingdom.
To be “poor in spirit” means to be poor from the spirit, from the heart, from the deepest centre of the innermost being of the person. These “poor” belong to that group of men and women who have placed at all times all their trust in God in the midst of life’s trials and difficulties, as in these words of the Psalm: “Though I am afflicted and poor, yet the Lord thinks of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, hold not back!” (Ps 40,18). They are poor in spirit those who fight constantly against the temptation of self-sufficiency and self-affirmation that wealth-idolatry produce in the human heart, and who adhere fully to the plan that God is carrying out in humanity and in history.
Luke, in his version of the beatitudes, contrasts the rich with the poor, as the Kingdom that is to come is contrasted with the present historical situation. He emphasizes concrete situations to show that the Kingdom of God destabilizes the hierarchy of values that predominates among men and women (Lk 6,20.24: “Blest are you poor; the reign of God is yours! But woe to you rich, for your consolation is now!”).
Matthew, on the other hand, shows in his interpretation of the beatitudes, that interior poverty is the condition necessary to enter the Kingdom. Matthew stresses the exhortative dimension and describes the attitudes of the just (Mt 5,3: “How blest are the poor in spirit: the reign of God is theirs!”). The first beatitude of Matthew summarises all the others. Blest is he who lives poverty by personal decision as an attitude of simplicity and abandonment before God and of detachment and freedom before every thing that is not God.
Together with the poor, blessed also are the “pure in heart”. The “heart” is the conscience, the seat of thoughts and plans, of the will and of affection. The heart is the starting point of decisions and actions. Purity is the transformation of the “heart of stone”, insensitive and obtuse, into a “heart of flesh”, alive and throbbing (Jer 31,31-34). These will see God, that is, they will experience his presence and will know how to discern and accept his ways. Blessed also are the “meek” or humble, that is, those who have no defender but God himself to claim their rights. In the O.T., God destines to them the gift par excellence, the possession of the Promised Land (Ps 37,9-11); of them, Jesus also says that “they will inherit the land”.
The other beatitudes manifest different expressions of these fundamental attitudes: poverty, purity of heart and meekness.
The Christian disciple will experience great obstacles in realizing the divine plan of salvation: injustice, persecution, hardheartedness of man. In the midst of the struggles of history, they will discover the value of affliction and of pain for the cause of the Kingdom. Jesus refers to this when he says: “Blest too are those who mourn; they shall be consoled” (v. 4). This mourning is fruit of the persecution for the cause of justice (v. 10), which in biblical sense does not end with fighting for a more human social order, but which encompasses also the building of a new world in which humanity attains the fullness that only God can give. In the biblical language, “justice” is synonymous to the integral salvation of men and women.
This justice, for which the believer fights and suffers and which is the source of infinite joy (v. 12), is not only a gift of God but also daily conquest and commitment. The disciple of Jesus lives with hunger and thirst for this justice (v. 6), that is, he desires it like water and food that satisfy the most basic needs of human life.
This ideal of the disciple, which becomes hunger and thirst, struggle and longing, is built day after day on two solid foundations: mercy (v. 7) and peace (v. 9). Mercy is reciprocal and active charity that becomes limitless pardon and acceptance of the other; peace, in biblical sense, is harmony and reconciliation of men and women among themselves and with the cosmos, and of men and women with God.