Ordinary Time: February 3rd
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
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"Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 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."
The first reading is taken from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah (one of the twelve minor prophets) 2: 3; 3: 12-13. The day was coming when God would punish not only the pagan nations, but also Judah for her pride and rebelliousness. However, a remnant would survive the day of wrath, if they continued to be humble and obedient to God's commands. It is this section of Zephaniah's prophecy that is read for us today.
The second reading is from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 1:26-31 and continues his correction of the Corinthians for their pride.
The Gospel is from the Gospel of St. Matthew 5:1-12a. The slaves and the serfs of our Lord's day had sufficient food to keep them fit for work because their masters needed their labor; today, there are millions in the underdeveloped continents who are not slaves but who are continually on the borderline of starvation through no fault of theirs. And in the developed countries there are many thousands who are in dire need because of the injustices of their fellowmen.
The early Christians suffered tortures and death for professing the faith of Christ, but they felt privileged to be called on to imitate their divine master. Today, there are millions of Christians who are suffering a long-drawn-out, and therefore a more difficult persecution for the same cause.
To all of these, to the poor, the despised, the persecuted. Christ gave the promise of an eternal reward which would repay a thousand-fold the short-lived sufferings of this life. It was this promise that gave the strength to so many, and is still giving the strength to thousands, to persevere in their faith and in their trust in God, no matter what their earthly lot may be.
While consoling the underprivileged, Christ has positive commands for those of His followers who are in a position to carry them out, "Blessed are the merciful," He says. That is to say: those who will show mercy and compassion to their suffering, needy fellowmen, can rest assured that God will be merciful to them, when they meet Him on their judgment day. The contrary is equally true and certain. The man who shuts his eyes and his heart to the hungry, the oppressed, the naked among his fellowmen need not, and cannot, expect mercy and forgiveness, when he has to render an account of his life's work. This is a thought that should make many of us examine our consciences more closely.
A second command which would do so much to make life on this earth more tolerable for all, if only all Christians and all other men of goodwill carried it out, is: "Blessed are the peacemakers." The vast majority of men of all creeds and colors desire peace. They hate war, which brings nothing but misfortune and sufferings to all sides. If only the peace-loving people of the earth could make their voices heard, life's journey would be made so much easier for all. Christians, surely, should give the lead here: it is Christ himself who told us that it is one of the principal means to happiness, not only in the next life but in this. Life for all of us has enough of sadness, trials and catastrophes without adding the man-made sufferings and afflictions of war.
It is true that the real, the eternal, beatitude or happiness can be found by men only in heaven, but a certain portion of it could be found by us on this earth if mercy and peace-making were practiced by all Christians and non-Christians of goodwill.
— Excerpted from The Sunday Readings Cycle A, Fr. Kevin O' Sullivan, O.F.M.