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Sunday Readings for Jan. 30, 2011 (4A)
By Fr. Alex McAllister
It is a bit of a cheek to preach a sermon about the greatest sermon ever preached. For that is surely what the Sermon on the Mount is, and the Beatitudes with which it opens is its summary. As an extraordinarily important religious text it stands by itself, and all we can do is talk around it and give thanks to God for it.
One of the reasons it is the best sermon ever given is that Jesus treats his hearers with great respect. He gives no explanations or long detailed clarifications. He simply tells them some important truths which once heard seem self-evident to his listeners, who are if anything only strangely puzzled that they hadn't thought of them themselves.
We call it the Sermon on the Mount, a mount is just a sort of small hill or hummock; just high enough so that Jesus could be heard by the assembled company. But we immediately recognise that it is meant to be a parallel with Moses when he came down the mountain with the tablets of stone on which were engraved the ten commandments.
Yet despite the obvious similarities the two situations could not be more different. The differences are a sermon in themselves. They show how differently God chooses to deal with his people.
There was the great mountain with its blasted rocks and dense clouds and here is the grassy knoll in the sunshine.
There was Moses the fierce old man trying to hold his people together as a cohesive group; here is Jesus who respects the individuality of each human being and who builds up his followers with extraordinary gentleness and patience.
There were the tablets of the law, full of do's and don'ts and with the fear of punishment behind them; here are the Beatitudes which bring untold blessings on those who are embraced by them.
Truly things had come a long way by the time of Jesus, but after all so had we. Moses was there at, near enough, the beginning, Jesus is the culmination of all that went before. God revealed himself only slowly through the centuries but we now see him revealed in his fullness in his son Jesus.
As we have frequently said, to be a Christian is not to be a follower of a set of rules, it is to be born again, it is to live a new life. It is to turn around and see things from a totally different perspective.
Here in the Beatitudes Jesus gives us a completely new set of spectacles to look through.
Here in the Beatitudes we see the values of this world turned upside down. We see the world through the eyes of God himself. Through the eyes of the one who does the blessing, the one who makes the life of the poor, the gentle, the mourners, the fighters for justice and peace, the pure in heart and the persecuted, the one who makes all their lives a Beatitude.
The Beatitudes are a privileged glimpse at the world through the eyes of God. They are a wonderful opportunity to see things as they really are.
I clearly remember going to Scotland when my 92-year-old Aunt Helen died. She had been looked after by her ninety-year-old brother, John, but they never got on, even though they had lived in the same house all their lives.
That is until she took ill and was unable to do anything for herself. Then he opened his heart to her, he sold the smallholding where he spent most of his time and devoted himself to her care.
She couldn't communicate but John talked to her all day. He dressed her, cleaned her up and even fed her with a spoon. The place was an absolute tip but he cared for her with all the love and concern he had in him.
When she died I went to see him. He said words I can never forget: I never knew what love was, not till Helen got ill.
It was as if his whole life had been a preparation for those few years spent caring for her in her frailness and infirmity.
He said something else which is also imprinted on my memory: “other people don't understand. They think that what they see is the real world. But we know that there is another world that's just behind this one. And there it’s the things you can't see that really count.”
My Uncle John knew what the Beatitudes were about because he lived them out in his own life.
There are many people in the same position, we meet them every day, they wouldn’t recognise the Beatitudes if they fell over them in the street but they live them out each day of their lives. They have become Beatitudes to the people around them—like Jesus they are goodness and truth personified. And not a few of this congregation are counted in their number.