Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven- Reflection for Mass of June 7, 2010

7 Jun

Monday, June 7, 2010
Ferial- Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 17:1-6; Psalm 121:1-8; Matthew 5:1-12

During my time in Cali, Colombia as a Basilian Associate, I took daily Spanish classes upstairs in the Cultural Centre of our Order’s school there, Instituto Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (INSA). On the way down the stairs after each Spanish lesson, I would note the inscription above the landing: “Bienaventurados los perseguidos… porque de ellos es el reino de Dios.”

That verse is the last of the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew that we hear in today’s Gospel reading: “Blessed are the persecuted… for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[1] Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount includes eight Beatitudes, whereas the Lukan parallel, the Sermon on the Plain, contains four Beatitudes and four corresponding woes.[2] Only two of Matthew’s Beatitudes, the first and the last of the eight, follow Jesus’ blessing with the very Matthean expression, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[3] The kingdom is promised in a special way to the poor in spirit and to those “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”[4]

In Colombia, poverty and persecution are ever-present realities; the passage written on the tiles above the stairwell of INSA’s Cultural Centre is therefore all the more striking. The Cultural Centre itself is named after Aldemar Rodríguez Carvajal, a twenty-year-old lay catechist from the neighbouring Basilian-run parish who was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered in 1992.[5]

Jesus’ blessings of the persecuted and of the poor, though, are not limited to Cali, to Aldemar Rodríguez Carvajal, to Jesus physical setting in first-century Israel, or to any particular person or place. The call of God through the Beatitudes extends to all of us.

The section of our Basilian Way of Life on our vow of poverty begins with the first Matthean Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”[6] We might ask what it means for us, here in Canada, to be poor, or to live poverty “in spirit.” If we read farther into the Basilian Way of Life, we are given some possible answers. The last paragraph on poverty begins with the declaration: “All that comes from the creative hand of God is good.”[7] Prior to this, the Basilian Way of Life emphasizes solidarity, accountability, and common life such that no person or community is in need.[8]

Inasmuch as the Beatitudes are blessings from God with everything that is good, they are also mission statements. To understand the Matthean Beatitudes in this way is faithful to the meaning of the Gospel. In fact, in the Jerome Biblical Commentary, John L. McKenzie connects Matthew’s first two Beatitudes, in favour of the poor in spirit and of those who mourn, to Isaiah 61:1-2: “The LORD has anointed me… to bring glad tidings to the lowly… to comfort all who mourn.”[9] While Luke places these same verses on the tongue of Jesus at the beginning of His ministry in Nazareth, Matthew makes a less evident reference to them in his Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew, Jesus is in continuity with the blessings given through the Law of Moses, and in Luke, Jesus is connected to Israel’s prophetic tradition.

In this manner we are to be, like Isaiah, like Matthew and Luke the Evangelists, and like Jesus Himself, prophets of the Beatitudes and stewards of God’s law, word, and creation. Blessed are those entrusted with such a vocation. The kingdom of heaven is for those who live that calling in truth and in love.

WRS


[1] Matthew 5:10

[2] Luke 6:20-26

[3] Matthew 5:3, 10

[4] Matthew 5:10

[5] Luis Fernando Sánchez, “The History of the Basilians in Colombia.” http://www.basilian.org/Meet_the_Basilians/colombia_history_en.php. Accessed 6 June, 2010.

[6] Matthew 5:3, quoted in The Basilian Way of Life, 14.

[7] The Basilian Way of Life, 24.

[8] The Basilian Way of Life, 16, 20-24.

[9] John L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:70.

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