Zephania 2:3, 3:12-13

Psalms 146:6-10

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Matthew 5:1-12

Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, very much wanted Jesus to appear as the new Moses.  Just as the tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments were brought down from the mountain by Moses, Jesus ascends a mountain in today’s gospel to deliver some of His most important teaching.

Our gospel begins, what we call, the Sermon on the Mount.  This teaching will go on for several chapters, and it begins with the familiar beatitudes, a distillation of sorts, of all of Jesus’ teaching.  Jesus’ public ministry has begun, and He will glean from the Jewish Scriptures, principles (often found in our ‘first readings’) that His listeners may have forgotten, or which they just don’t think apply to their current situation.  Scribes and Pharisees, Essences and Zealots, were all vying for the attention of the Jewish people, but the one who comes to us today from the mountain will be suggesting a fully alternative way of living their lives.  Jesus is teaching something other than a blind adherence to the Law, and while so many of the people want the overthrow of the ‘powers that be,’ that is not the kind of Messiah that Jesus came into this world to be.

The first reading from the book of Zephaniah has themes which echo through all of the prophets, and is a call to the humble of the earth, to those among us who are disenfranchised.  They are not to embrace humiliation and the feeling of powerlessness.  Rather they need to seek justice and truth while remaining rooted in the divine presence who is the source of virtue, peace, and love.  The psalmist continues this theme of disenfranchisement, reminding those who pray that “the Lord keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry.  The Lord sets captives free.”

No doubt many of Jesus’ listeners found His poetically beautiful words to be difficult, for the rewards are firmly planted in an unknown future.  Many might have left the mountain scratching their heads and asking, ‘so when are these good things going to happen?’  The disciples of Jesus will soon come to know the “cost of discipleship.”  If the prophets have been persecuted until now because of their burning devotion to truth, justice, and holiness, the disciples will come to know scorn and persecution because of the incarnate Word, the very one who is uttering the Beatitudes.  Jesus makes it all very clear (but the disciples no doubt missed the point) when He says in the last Beatitude: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”  Matthew alludes to the persecution he has already witnessed by the time his gospel is being compiled.

In this first teaching of Jesus at the beginning of His public ministry, He makes it clear that following in His footsteps will not be easy.  The future apostles, Peter and Andrew, James and John, who have only just left their fishing careers behind them, could never have imagined what they will witness over the next three years as they make their way to Jerusalem – the blind will see, the lame will walk, and those presumed to be dead will be brought back to life.  This will not be the last time Jesus will speak to them about what following Him will entail, but it won’t be till after the crucifixion that they will fully come to understand the cost of discipleship.

Like Paul Harvey (of radio days), we have the rest of the story, and while we are blessed to live in a country which respects our religious freedoms, there are many Christians suffering precisely because of their faith.  Even without outright persecution, we need to “consider our own calling,” for living the kind of life Jesus lays out for us in the Beatitudes and subsequent teaching can be impossibly challenging.  Our only boast should be in the Lord Jesus, who is “for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:31). Even when the way seems rough, may we boast in the Lord who has chosen us, “the lowly and despised,” to have the privilege of following in Jesus’ footsteps.

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