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Exploring the Word

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 

29 January 2023


Jerusalem Bible © 1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd and Doubleday & Company Inc.

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:

‘How happy are the poor in spirit;
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:
for they shall have the earth as their heritage.
Happy those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right:
they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers:
they shall be called children of God.
Happy are those who are persecuted in the cause of right:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’

(Matthew 5:1–12)

Did you know?

Points of interest and Catholic lore 
  • This collection of sayings is known as the ‘Beatitudes’, which means ‘blessings’.
  • This text is also known as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Luke also has a version of this text, but his account is set on a plain by the Sea of Galilee (Luke 6:20–26). Compare the two versions.
  • Just as Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai, Matthew situates Jesus on a mountain as he gives the new law.
  • There are a number of instances in his gospel where Matthew parallels Jesus with Moses. Again, this may be to appeal to the largely Jewish audience of his own community.

Exploring the Word

The rendering of the Greek term used in this text as ‘happy’ is rather weak. A better term is ‘blessed’. At the heart of the Beatitudes is Jesus’ instruction to his followers to cultivate certain qualities in their lives. To be gentle, to mourn, to thirst for what is right, to be merciful, to be pure of heart and to be peacemakers are signs of the presence of the kingdom of God in our lives. To have such virtues is to be blessed. Jesus teaches that those who suffer some human lack or pain are blessed, not because poverty, pain or sorrow are good in themselves, but because they reveal to us our need for God. Those who are prosperous, comfortable or content find this much more difficult to realise and accept.

The final portion of this text speaks to the experience of the early church, which suffered persecution for the sake of faith in Jesus Christ. Christians today are also called to stand against arrogant secularism, which proclaims that humans do not need God. Even today, people suffer for their faith, but they too are assured that their reward will be great in heaven!

  • Recall a time of suffering and sorrow in your life. What was God saying to you at that time? How did such an experience influence the person you are today?
  • Describe someone you know who embodies one of the Beatitudes.

Making connections

Opportunities for group discussion and personal prayer 
  • Who do you know who is ‘poor in spirit’, ‘gentle’, a ‘peacemaker’, ‘merciful’, ‘pure in heart’? How are these qualities manifested?
  • Pray for those people this week.
  • This gospel presents a surprising teaching on the source of happiness. Recall a time when you experienced complete happiness and joy. What was the source of that happiness? Compare this with what the media and advertising present as sources of happiness in today’s society.
  • Live the Beatitudes as consciously as possible this week.
  • Read and reflect on the Beatitudes this week. Can you write one for yourself?

Sharing the tradition

A closer look at the Scripture of the day, to see how it makes more explicit God’s word to us through the teachings of Jesus Christ 

Some of the revered figures of the Church have embodied the virtues celebrated in the Beatitudes. This is a good opportunity to introduce the lives and work of some saints or other figures as models of these virtues—for example:

  • Mother Theresa of Calcutta as ‘poor in spirit’
  • St Francis of Assisi and St Clare as ‘gentle’
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, as one who ‘mourned’
  • St Oscar Romero as one who ‘hungered and thirsted for justice’
  • St Therese of Lisieux as ‘pure in heart’.

You will be able to think of many more.

  • Discuss practical ways that catechumens can cultivate these virtues in their daily lives.

Symbols and images

The ‘poor’ are those who are not smug and self-satisfied. Those who ‘mourn’ are those who grieve at the effects of sin in the world. The ‘meek’ are the lowly and powerless in any situation. Those who ‘hunger for righteousness’ are those who long for justice and peace. The ‘pure of heart’ are those who seek God alone. The ‘peacemakers’ are those who work to restore broken relationships. Those who are ‘persecuted’ are those who are ridiculed for their faith. Taken all together, the Beatitudes describe what a Christian should be like.

Living the Word

Practical ideas for group leaders to employ in connecting Scripture and daily life, with suggestions for music and environment 
  • Does you parish community have a patron saint after whom it was named who embodied one of the virtues of the Beatitudes. How does your community celebrate your patron? How does it live the Beatitudes?
  • Use the Scriptures and a candle as a focus for prayer. Pray for each other as you seek to develop these virtues of the Beatitudes. There are a number of songs based on this text—for example, ‘The Beatitudes’ (GA 489). Conclude with the prayer of exorcism in the RCIA at §94D.
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