In today’s liturgy we discover some of the values by which a Christian should live. Now, while these values present an enormous challenge, they also offer great rewards in terms of peace, happiness and integrity.
You may have heard the story of the man – or it could be a woman – walking through a meadow, quietly observing all the beauty around him. He came upon a field of pumpkins growing on their slender vines and, being somewhat tired, he sat on the ground under a huge oak tree. As he sat there and contemplated the beauty of the day he noticed the ground was covered in acorns which had fallen from the tree. He thought for a minute and smiled to himself and said, “God must have made a mistake here. He put big pumpkins on tiny vines and small acorns on huge trees.” Anyhow, after a while he fell asleep. But he was woken abruptly by an acorn which fell out of the tree and landed on his nose. This made him laugh again and he thought, “Maybe God was right after all. Small acorns are where they should be, and big pumpkins are in the right place too”.
Now, the story serves to illustrate the fact that God doesn’t think like we do. We just heard in the gospel how Our Lord climbs up a hill to reveal some startling news to his disciples and the crowd. He links blessedness and happiness to being poor and unhappy, to being lowly and persecuted. Our Lord has a way of turning values around, and of causing us to rethink our experiences. This isn’t the way we usually see pain and suffering, as blessings. But all three readings today have a way of showing us differently.
In the first reading the prophet Zephaniah reminds the exiled Israelites that it is not being powerful and materially secure that will save them, but being humble and faithful to God’s law. Now, you can imagine that this wasn’t an easy thing to say to a people who were enslaved in Babylon. And it’s also hard to believe that those who are proud and powerful will not fare well on the day of Judgement. Zephaniah points out that the important thing is to let God into their lives and they would be blessed. Maybe they needed the exile to be reminded of that value, just as we today perhaps need a persecution to make us appreciate our faith a bit more.
St. Paul reminds the Corinthians how God’s ways are different from theirs. God chooses the weak in order to confound the strong; he chooses the absurd to show up the wise; and he shows how the Cross of Christ, an instrument of humiliation, torture and excruciating death, brings life to the world.
In the gospel, we find the ultimate paradox. Happiness doesn’t depend on how rich we are, or on how suffering-free we may be.
In Our Lord’s time people regarded suffering as a curse, a punishment for sin. But Our Lord turns that thinking around. Rather suffering is a sign of blessedness, because through suffering, if one chooses, a person can turn to God, and in God one is always blessed.
And so we can be happy, because what Our Lord promises in the future is so sure and certain that it spills over into the present. God’s love breaks into our troubled and sinful world and fills it with blessing.
Our Lord also calls us to conversion. By turning to and finding God in these difficult life experiences, we find our blessedness. For example:
- In being merciful we are asked to forgive and to seek reconciliation with those who offend us, and by doing so we bring peace and unity to our broken relationships.
- In being pure of heart we are called to sincerity and genuineness, and to foster trust and co-operation in a world full of dishonesty and deceit.
- In becoming peacemakers we are to avoid violence and accept Our Lord’s teaching that we should love our enemy and turn around the cycle of vengeance and revenge, and even make friends with our enemies.
- In suffering persecution for justice sake, we are willing to forego our comfort, even our life in order to do God’s will, and we find our life anew through Our Lord’s promise that dying to ourselves will lead to life itself.
We all know what conversion means: it means changing our minds and our hearts, our choices and our actions, in order to see things in a new light. Conversion is to turn away from the darkness of sin and turn towards the light which is God. All of us need to see new options and make new choices. Today’s readings show us an alternative to what we think will bring us happiness. Our Lord calls us to see our world through his eyes and he challenges us to respond to the new options that insight presents. It may be hard to accept his way of thinking and to make those hard choices. But Our Lord never goes back on his word. And he promises that we will find happiness in being poor in spirit, in being meek, in being peacemakers, and in promoting justice.
But are we up to that challenge? Or are we so full of selfishness and pride, that only what ‘I’ want matters?
Except for the Blessed Virgin Mary, no one who stood under the Cross on Good Friday could have imagined that the story wouldn’t end there, or that its real ending would be resurrection and eternal life for all who believe. God has a way of turning things around.
In the Mass, we celebrate the fact that God doesn’t think in the narrow, selfish ways we do. We worship the God who surprises us by turning our expectations around, the God who turns our pains and our failures into blessings.