January 30, 2011 – Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
All too often, it seems, God doesn’t give us the comfort we want, but instead challenges us to live on a higher level than we’d like. What we’d really like is for God to congratulate us on making whatever spiritual progress in life we have made, and then go on to bless our lives with whatever we desire at the moment.
But that’s not what we learn in the Scripture passages read today. Sometimes it seems like much of the Bible is an expansion of Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
And that’s the point St. Paul wants to get through to the Corinthians in our reading from 1 Corinthians 1. He reminds them that they were not the wise, the powerful, or the noble by human standards – not surprising as Corinth was a seaport best known as the “sin city” of the ancient world. Nevertheless, they were the ones whom God had chosen to shame those the world considers wise, strong, and prominent, for God’s ways turn the standards of fallen humans upside down. God did the chose the ones the world despises “so that no human being might boast before God.”
Then what are God’s ways, the ways he wants us to live? They can be found in today’s Gospel, the Beatitudes from Matthew 5. We’re all familiar with them; many of us even had to memorize them; but that very familiarity can keep us from realizing how radical they are. “Blessed are they who mourn…the merciful…the peacemakers…” We don’t want to mourn. We have trouble being merciful, because we’d rather have revenge. And if any person or group offends us, we want retaliation instead of peace.
And besides, Jesus must have been kidding when he said, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness…blessed are you when they insult you…” Suffering for the sake of righteousness is not something most of us signed on for, and we expect our dignity and honor to be left undisturbed.
But Christian stewards are called to aim for the qualities Jesus enumerates in the Beatitudes, even though we fall short again and again. We can’t live our lives in the spirit of the Beatitudes under our own power. That is why it is comforting to know, as St. Paul declares, that Jesus is our righteousness. It is God’s power and grace that enables us to live as stewards and disciples of Jesus.