THEME: SEEK RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HUMILITY
READINGS: Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13 / 1 Cor. 1:26-31 / Matthew 5:1-12
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
According to the first reading, the prophet Zephaniah exhorted the People of God in Judah: “seek righteousness, seek humility” (Zeph. 2:3). In the beatitudes of Jesus Christ, we find the expansion of the meanings of righteousness and humility (cf. Matt. 5:3-12).
- TWO BASIC VIRTUES
At the time Zephaniah prophesied, many people in Judah had disobeyed God’s commandments. They were even worshipping other gods. As a result of their unfaithfulness, their nation would be conquered. While the unfaithful and arrogant would be destroyed, a small group of people who were pleasing to God would be saved. They pleased Him, because they were righteous (faithful to the commandments) and humble (acknowledged their dependence on God).
- THE RIGHTEOUS
Four of the beatitudes in the Gospel of St. Matthew seem to expand on the meaning of righteousness. Firstly, the righteous hunger and thirst for righteousness (cf. Matt. 5:6). This means that they have a constant deep longing for goodness and justice; and they work towards their realization. Secondly, the righteous are pure in heart (cf. Matt. 5:8). That is, they are faithful to God, loyal to His commands, and sincerely worship Him. Thirdly, the righteous are peacemakers (cf. Matt. 5:9). This means that because of their love for neighbours, they always foster peaceful co-existence. Fourthly, the righteous believe in Jesus, and for His sake they may experience persecution (cf. Matt. 5:10-11).
Whereas we should seek righteousness, we should detest self-righteousness, or the “holier than thou” attitude. This attitude is characterized by arrogance or pride. Therefore, to prevent our righteousness from deteriorating, we have to be humble.
- THE HUMBLE
The four other beatitudes in the Gospel of St. Matthew seem to elaborate on the virtue of humility. Firstly, the humble are poor in spirit (cf. Matt. 5:3). That is, whether materially poor or rich, they acknowledge their dependence on God. Secondly, the humble are those who mourn because of the reign of evil on earth (cf. Matt. 5:5). Thirdly, the humble are meek (cf. Matt. 5:4). This means that they are gentle with others or slow to anger. Fourthly, the humble are merciful (cf. Matt. 5:6-7). That is, conscious of their dependence on the mercy of God, they become compassionate and forgiving.
- INHERITING THE EARTH
Like the righteous and humble who inherited the Land of Judah, so we shall inherit the earth if we are both righteous and humble. Jesus seems to allude to this in His beatitude about the meek. Thus, He proclaims: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:4). Though the meek sometimes suffer in the hands of the violent, the latter have, since the time of Cain (cf. Gen. 4:2-8), not been able to take possession of the whole earth. It is only when all humans learn to be meek as well as righteous that they would inherit the earth. That is, it is only then that all humans will together truly enjoy the earth.
Whereas, this is the ideal vision, let us begin to make a difference by exhibiting meekness as well as righteousness in our family, community, organization and nation. For instance, the story of a broken-down marriage would have been different, if the husband or wife or both were meek and righteous. Similarly, the state of our nation today might be different, if leaders were meek and righteous enough. However, both in the family and nation, the situations are not yet hopeless. Therefore, with humility and righteousness, let us all begin to work on the reconstruction of whatever we might have destroyed.
- INHERITING GOD’S KINGDOM
Most importantly, the righteous and humble shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, Jesus proclaims: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:3). That is, God will eventually, reward the poor in spirit with the eternal riches of His Kingdom. Let us, therefore, humbly seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and its righteousness and all other things shall be added unto it (cf. Matt. 6:33).
Let us seek righteousness by hungering and thirsting for it, purity in heart, peacemaking and enduring persecution for Christ’s sake. In addition, let us seek humility to keep our righteousness in check by being poor in spirit, merciful, meek and mournful over evil. Finally, as we seek righteousness and humility, may the Lord reward us, especially, with His Kingdom! Amen!
By Fr. John K. Louis