The Beatitudes show us the Heart of God

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

(Some ideas below from Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew: Vol. 1)

Parents want what is best for their children and God wants what is best for us. What is best for us? That even here now we already enjoy something of the peace of heaven. In heaven we will be close to God and if we are to enjoy something of the peace of heaven here now we can do so only by being close to God. Moses went up Mount Sinai and came down with the Ten Commandments to begin us on the journey to God. In Galilee Jesus went up the mountain and taught the Beatitudes to reveal fully how can enjoy the peace of heaven by knowing the heart of God. In the Beatitudes Jesus is praising certain values and attitudes and telling us if you have these values and attitudes you will be close to God, you will be blessed. If we want to know what the heart of God is like we have to look no further than the Beatitudes. Then knowing what the heart of God is like the Beatitudes invite us to imitate the heart of God. Some Church Fathers tell us that God became man in Christ so that we would become more like God. The Beatitudes teach us how to become more like God, how to reflect the goodness and beauty and truth in the heart of God, in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is true that the qualities and virtues praised in the Beatitudes are in some ways contrary to what is exalted and practiced in the world. That only tells us how far the world is from the heart of God because in the beatitudes we see the heart of God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. I once heard this beatitude translated as blessed are those who have to rely on God for every breath they take. This beatitude is not praising economic poverty but poverty in spirit which is being dependent on God for everything. In this beatitude instead of we praising God, God is praising those who rely totally on him and promises a reward, “the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” In the other beatitudes the reward is in the future, “they will be comforted…they will inherit the land…they will be satisfied…” but in this first beatitude the reward is now, “the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” This is surely because those who are poor in spirit are clinging to God, are so totally united with God, that even now they are experiencing something of the peace of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted. We normally understand this mourning as mourning for our sins and the sins for others, so it praises repentance. We mourn for our sins and the sins of others because they are an offense against God. This beatitude tells us we already enjoy blessedness if we mourn sins, but the full enjoyment or reward will be in the future, “they will be comforted.” The Greek word in Matthew’s Gospel that is translated as “comfort” (παρακληθήσονται) is much more beautiful than comfort. It really means God will be at your side. Blessed are you if you mourn your sins and the sins of others, God will be by your side to console you. The full reward for this beatitude is in the future because it will be only at the Last Judgment that we will see how God can bring good out of evil and on that day God will be at our side to console us.

Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the land. The meek are not those who lie down under a beating but those who have the goodwill to change a bad situation into better. They do not use violence because they do not return evil for evil. A coward can use violence but the meek are not cowards; they are courageous and transform and recreate a situation peacefully. This is what we see in the life of Jesus. In Gethsemane when Jesus was being arrested Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant but Jesus put his ear back on and healed it immediately (Luke 22:50-51; John 18:10). Therefore later in Matthew’s Gospel we hear Jesus say, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matt 11:29) The meek will inherit the land, but not any land on earth that might be taken over by force and violence; instead they will inherit the Promised Land of Heaven.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Those who are righteous are in right relationship with God. We could say they are holy. Whenever there is some social situation established on a false foundation it is not reflecting the beauty and truth and goodness of God. We hunger and thirst for these false situations to be rectified and justified because we are concerned not only with our personal relationship with God but we want the best for all people. God wants to bless us not only as individuals but wants to bless society to reflect more the heart of God. Therefore when there is anything ungodly in society, such as abortion, we hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. We all stand in need of God’s mercy but instead of waiting for God to be merciful to us first this beatitude praises those who are merciful to others now. God is merciful and this beatitude praises those who act like God. When we forgive we transform and recreate. Giving mercy changes a situation to be more godly. We can see this in the Latin word for mercy, “misericordia.” It means moving our heart – cor - to the miserable situation - miseria - of another, in that way helping them to become once more the image of God.

Blessed are the clean of heart for they will see God. The word “clean” used by Matthew (καθαροὶ) is also used to describe the purifying rituals of the Jews, so a clean or pure heart is not just a heart free of impure thoughts but a heart that has been cleaned, consecrated, and made ready to receive God’s holiness. All worldly attachments have been removed from such a heart so it is ready to receive the presence of God.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God. Jesus, the Son of God, is called the Prince of Peace because he made peace between God and us through shedding his blood in sacrifice for us (Col 1:20). We also are peacemakers when we try to bring people closer to God and in that sense we are sons of God.

Blessed are those persecuted for the sake of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Those praised a moment ago for being peacemakers are now persecuted. This beatitude, and the next, praise those persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for the sake of Jesus. Only persecution for the sake of righteousness and for the sake of Jesus is said to be blessed by this beatitude. Jesus was physically tortured during his Passion and this beatitude praises those who carry wounds of any type because of their love for Jesus. This beatitude praises those who can identify with Christ through suffering for him and righteousness.

Parents want what is best for their children and God wants what is best for us. What is best for us? That even here now we already enjoy something of the peace of heaven. In heaven we will be close to God and if we are to enjoy something of the peace of heaven here now we can do so only by being close to God. If we want to know what the heart of God is like we have to look no further than the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes teach us how to become more like God, how to reflect the goodness and beauty and truth in the heart of God, in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

(Some ideas above from Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew: Vol. 1)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2011

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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