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THE WAY TO TRUE HAPPINESS: 4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON JANUARY 29, 2023 (R. 1: Zephaniah 2: 3; 3: 12-13; Psalm 146: 6-7, 8-9, 9-10; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 1: 26-31; Gospel: Matthew 5: 1-12a) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

When you compare Christianity with other religions, you will discover one unique thing about Christianity, that is, Christianity is not just about a set of teachings; it is primarily about a person, namely Jesus Christ. In Christianity, the teacher and the teaching are one. Jesus is not separate from his teaching. Last Sunday, at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus went about recruiting his disciples saying “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). He did not say, “Come, let me teach you;” he called them to make them into something new, to bring about an ontological change in them, that they may become one with him. So in Christianity, three elements are one: the Teacher, the Teaching and the Student (Disciple).

Having called his followers last Sunday, today he begins their formation with the Sermon on the Mount. The sermon is not about morality, it is about Jesus. Since his mission is to make us to be like him, he is drawing a self-portrait here on the mount and inviting his disciples to become like him. Archbishop Fulton Sheen notes that “Two mounts are related as the first and second acts in a two-act drama. The Mount of the Beatitude and the Mount of Calvary. He who climbed the first to preach the beatitudes must necessarily climb the second to practice what he preached.” So, the Beatitudes all form the portrait/picture of Jesus.

Jesus said, “Blessed are…” The Greek adjective used here is makarioi, which can be translated into English as blessed or happy. That explains why some translations will say “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, while others will say, “Happy are the poor in spirit…” So, the invitation that Jesus is offering his followers is an invitation to happiness, which comes not in the way of the world but from becoming one with Jesus. It is the happiness that the world cannot give to us, and cannot take away from us. After he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” he later revealed himself as an embodiment of that poverty when one of the scribes volunteered to follow him wherever he went. Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8: 20).

When he said, “Blessed are they who mourn…” it was not far from him, for the Prophet Isaiah had already described him as “[A] man of sorrows and familiar with sufferings” (53: 3). What about when he said, “Blessed are the meek…”? In Matthew 11: 29-30 Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am peaceful and meek in my heart and you will find rest for your souls.” What about “Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called children (sons) of God.”? Already, Isaiah prophesied, “For there is a child born for us, a son is given to us…this is the name they will give him; Wonder-Counsellor…Prince-of-Peace” (Isaiah 9: 6). And when he died on the Cross, the Centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15: 39).

So, the beatitudes are not just the teachings of Jesus but the life of Jesus himself. He makes no distinction between his teaching and his life, similarly, he makes no distinction between himself and his followers. He says his sorrows will be theirs; his joy will be theirs. His followers are to be like him in all things. He asked us to expect to be treated as he was treated, and that we should respond like he responded so we might be rewarded like he was rewarded.

Have you ever been given a kiss that blistered? Have you ever been betrayed by an insider? Have you ever helped a friend who later used the same help to harm you? Have your friends, family, classmates, co-workers ever turned against you because you stood for the truth? Have you been denied your right because you did the right thing? Compare notes with Jesus, he was there before you. One of my professors once said, “Jesus lost the only election he contested.” That was when Pilate asked the crowd (among whom might have been those Jesus healed) to choose between Jesus and Barabbas and the crowd preferred Barabbas the terrorist to Jesus the Savior. In the midst of such treatments, he said “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” And truly, he did not curse those who persecuted him, he rather prayed for them, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The Apostles and the early Christians took after him. Paul and Silas sang and praised God while in prison (cf. Acts 16: 25), and Stephen prayed for those who stoned him to death (cf. Acts 7: 60). So, Christianity is not just about head knowledge, but the transformation of life into a life lived in and as Christ.

A monk was once meditating by the riverside. He saw a scorpion being washed into the river by the flood, he then bent down and picked up the scorpion to prevent it from being drowned, but the scorpion stung him. He threw it back into the water and nursed his finger for a while. When he felt better, he went back to pick the scorpion and he was stung again. He threw it into the river and nursed his finger. When he felt better, he was about to pick it the third time when a passer-by yelled at him, “Brother Monk, are you crazy! The scorpion has been stinging you and you keep helping it.” The Monk then replied, “It is the nature of the scorpion to sting, while it is the nature of the Monk to help. So, let the scorpion keep on stinging and let the Monk continue to help.” My dearly beloved in Christ, I am not suggesting that you go and start picking up scorpions with your bare hands after this Mass. The point is that we must never allow the bitterness of someone else to contaminate our sweetness. In order to attain the blessedness/ happiness that Jesus has promised us, two important rules we must keep: Rule 1: Never give up on doing good things. Rule 2. Always remember rule 1.

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