Sunday, January 30, 2011
A New People
The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. These are the founding documents of our country. They spell out how our country will be governed and what rights we will uphold. They define what kind of nation we are to be.
Today's gospel is the Beatitudes which forms the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is, for Jesus, the constitution of a new people and a new Kingdom. It's a founding document spelling out for us what kind of church Jesus intends us to be. It's a declaration of independence from a narrow view of religion as just a bunch of "thou shalt nots" to a living relationship with God the Father. Just as Moses climbed the mountain to receive the Law from God and deliver it to His people Israel, so Jesus, from the mount, delivers a new law for a new people.
What kind of people is God gathering? What kind of Church does Jesus intend to found? We hear about it in the Beatitudes. God's people are the poor and the lowly. They are those who have no power in the eyes of the world.
Human governments are formed and run by people with power, wealth and influence. They conquer through force, by gathering strong armies with fearsome weapons.
But God means to conquer the world in a different way. God means to conquer the world one heart at a time.
God whispers to the poor, "Let me be your wealth". The world's riches depreciate in value and are easily depleted, but God's wealth never loses value. God whispers to the sorrowful heart: "Let me be your consolation." The world offers empty words of consolation which cannot reach the heart. Only God can touch the unfathomable depths of the human heart which He created. God whispers to the hungry: "Let me feed you." The world's bread fills the belly for only a few hours. Soon, the stomach growls for more. But God's bread is free and satisfying beyond any nourishment the world can offer.
Jesus is gathering a new people, a new Kingdom. Jesus is instigating a revolution of peace and justice, not by means of armies and fire-power, but through simple people who seek to do God's will. Jesus is forming this new people out of you and me with our gifts, with our failures, with our limitations.
If we read the Beatitudes and hear in them a message of resignation before evil, then we really have not heard Jesus' words. Jesus is not saying to us that life is hard, but if we tough it out we'll be rewarded in heaven. The Kingdom of God which Jesus preaches about is not an event in some never-never land far off in the future. The Kingdom of God is today. It is here. It is now. Today is the day for the sorrowful to be comforted. Today is the day for the hungry to be fed. Now is the time for mercy and peace to be practiced. The Kingdom of God is among us and within us.
Neither are the Beatitudes something for other people to practice and live out. It is not something left up to the bishops, or nuns or other more "spiritual" people. It is for us to do. We are to practice mercy in our day-to-day lives. We are to make peace a reality. And, if necessary, we are to bear insults, ridicule and persecution for the sake of Jesus and the Kingdom which is breaking into our world. If we don't say "yes", if we don't let God conquer our hearts, then this Kingdom cannot be real and effective in the world.
We are gathered here today to witness something spectacular. It will go largely unnoticed. Katie Couric and Bill O'Reilly won't be here to cover it. Nonetheless, something revolutionary is taking place here today. Simple bread and wine will be transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. And, we will be fed by it. God will whisper to our hearts that He wants us for His own people.
Will we take this gift home with us? Will we allow it to transform us, transform our families, transform our work places, transform our world? Only then will this revolution of peace be underway.