Sermon Notes by Fr.Eugene A. Thalman M.M for Homilists and Religion Teachers. Embargo: Catholics are welcome to read after Noon, Sunday
4th Sunday of Year A Matt 4: 1-12
[Our Lady of Fatima is a Catholic parish of the Hong Kong diocese. It is located on a one-square mile island. The total population is over 30,000. About 50 Filipino Catholics attend the English/Tagalog Sunday Mass and about 120 Chinese Catholics attend the Chinese Mass. The Church is also a center for pilgrimage. The pastor, Fr.Gene Thalman M.M., ordained 1960 is a Maryknoll missioner. He enjoys sharing with you his weekly struggle to make the Word of God relevant to this particular community.[email protected] and for Social Concerns Lesson Plans see www.acpp.org under "Library."
JESUS TAKES A CENSUS
During these two weeks we are updating our parish census. So it was only natural that I should entertain the following dream.
I was sound asleep last night and suddenly I get this real interesting dream. I guess it was about 3:30 A.M. But I don’t know for sure since I was asleep. Anyway Jesus says: "Fr. Hoh, I am sorry to disturb you. But I would like a report listing the number of my disciples in your parish. And I answered: "That is easy: We have _______ baptized Catholics in our parish."
And Jesus answers: "That is not what I asked. It is one thing to be baptized and quite another to be my disciple!" So I said: "According to my calculations, we have _________ Catholics who are doing their best to observe all the commandments."
To my surprise Jesus is getting irritated and says: "I didn’t ask you how many Catholics were obeying the Commandments. I asked you precisely: "How many disciples do I have your parish? I asked about my disciples. Buddhists, Taoists, Spirit worshippers and even atheists observe the Ten Commandments. Sometimes atheists even accompany their children to Sunday Mass."
By this time I am getting irritated myself. I was trying to have a nice peaceful sleep. So I said: "Good-night Jesus and buried my head in my pillow." Well the next morning, when I got up, I found my bible opened and there were 12 verses highlighted in bright orange. Who can guess what those 12 verses were?
CHRIST’S POINT OF VIEW
Do you remember how Moses sat on Mount Sinai and presented the people with the Ten Commandments? Moses taught them the kind of lives they needed to live if they wanted to belong to God’s people. In that way Moses formed a new people.
This is Jesus’ first sermon. Jesus went to a mountain and sat down to teach. In this way Jesus wanted to show that he was the new Moses. Jesus showed that he was creating a new people. The Jewish crowd knew exactly that Jesus was acting like a new Moses. The crowd comprised the poor, the suffering, the losers, the miserable, the persecuted—all the kinds of people that big people looked down upon.
Matthew tells us something very important in the first verse. He says that Jesus saw the crowds—but—but—but—that his disciples came to him. And Jesus taught the disciples—not-not-not-- to the crowd. (Luke says the same thing: "And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:…" Luke 6:20). I want you to remember this because it is important. Jesus not speaking to the crowd but to his disciples.
Now Jesus didn’t give his listeners more laws. Instead Jesus announces to this group that they have already won the "happiness lottery." Jesus said that these poor folks were really happy because God was their protector and God was in the process of setting things right. And Luke records Jesus’ words: "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." In other words, people who are materially poor are God’s favorite friends..
Scripture scholars tell us that Luke is closest to the actual message of Jesus.
MATTHEW’S SLANT ON THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
Matthew has been thinking about these words of Jesus for some forty years and asks: "How are these Beatitudes important for our Jewish-Christian communities?"
Matthew is writing in Antioch, modern day Syria, over 500 miles from Jerusalem. He is writing to Jewish-Christian communities spread out over the Roman Empire.
These Jewish Christians were a lot like the Chinese Catholics gathered here at Our Lady of Fatima this morning. Like the Chinese, the Jewish people were hard workers and good business people. Although not wealthy many had enough money to live in decent security.
That meant that Matthew had a problem: Why was it important for these Jewish Christians (and we at Our Lady of Fatima) to hear Jesus’ message about happiness?
Matthew, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, adds some extra words to the Beatitudes.
In the first Beatitude, Matthew adds the words "in spirit." "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
Matthew also includes some Beatitudes not found in Luke. Matthew says that the "pure in heart", "meek" and "merciful" folks are happy people. In brief, Matthew is saying that the important thing is not whether or not folks are materially poor. More importantly it is their interior disposition. In other words, materially rich people could be blessed provided they were "poor", "pure", "meek" and "merciful" way down deep inside.
In the same way, the people of Cheung Chau will recognize that we at Our Lady of Fatima community are disciples of Jesus if these virtues are embedded deeply in our hearts and shine forth in our behavior.
Taoists, Buddhists, devotees of popular religion and even atheists often faithfully observe the commandments. The only difference between a Christian and a sincere atheist is that the atheist doesn’t go to Church on Sunday.
This morning each of us Christians must asks himself or herself: "How does my internal disposition and consequent behavior distinguish me from a non-Christian? How do my thoughts and behavior reflect Jesus’ most important teaching: His teaching about true happiness? What changes in my life and thinking would be required for me to become a genuine Christian disciple?
When we examine our conscience before the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we need not spend much time on the Ten Commandments. Like good Taoists or Buddhists or atheists, most of us don’t embezzle, run off with our neighbor’s nagging wife or murder our boss. We don’t honor our parents by saying: "Mom and dad, I didn’t murder you last week. I didn’t call you names or even scold you."
We don’t call ourselves followers of Jesus just because we observed all the big commandments and only committed a few respectable minor violations. Once we have taken care of the legalities of an examination of conscience before Sacramental Confession, we should ask ourselves: "Have I been a true and recognizable disciple of Jesus this past month?"
We want to discover whether our hearts and our behavior have been that of a disciple of Jesus. And so we read Matt 5:3-12 and ask: "Since my last confession, did I struggle to live the Christian life as outlined in the Beatitudes of Matthew?"
How was I poor in spirit?
How was I meek? What does the word "meek" mean in the Bible?
Did I hunger in my heart for righteousness?
Did I really have a merciful heart for folks in trouble whether I like them or not?
Was I single-minded in seeking God and his will?
Was I at peace in my heart and with others. Was I a peacemaker in tense situations?
Why didn’t anyone persecute me? Is it because I don’t take a stand for what I
know to be right?
If we truly wish that Our Lady of Fatima will always be a genuine community of Jesus’ disciples, what must we do to truly become "poor in spirit?" What will we talk about at our next parish society meeting?
How many of you will be preparing for Easter by approaching the Sacrament of Reconciliation? How many of you intend to use St. Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes as a part of your preparation to receiving the Sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation and Holy Communion?
Or if Jesus took up a census after Mass this morning, how many of us would be registered as disciples of Jesus?
HOMILETIC NOTES AND STUFF
4th Sunday of Year A Matt 4: 1-12
ONE WORD: Beatitude
THEME: Jesus disciples are those who have a beatitudinal interior disposition and the accompanying behavior.
TEXT: "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
DESIRED RESULT: As a result of this homily, I always study Matthew 4: 1-12 in order to prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
"The ‘beatitude’ is a form of speech which proclaims the happiness or blessedness of one or more persons in certain circumstances or under certain conditions. Herman Hendrickx, Sermon on the Mount, (Manila, Philippines: East Asian Pastoral Institute, 1979), p. 11.
…As to their meaning, the beatitudes may be divided into two categories. In the first, a person or group is declared happy because of a particular state or an act which exists de facto; e.g., Ps 33(32):12, ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.’ In the second category, the proclamation is conditional and amounts to an indirect exhortation to adopt a certain conduct; e.g., Ps 32(31):2, ‘Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in those spirit there is no deceit,’ Matthew’s beatitudes belong to the second category…" [Emphasis added: et] Ibid.
What is distinctly Matthew?
"Although the beatitudes were originally intended as ‘messianic proclamations’ and did not indicate virtues to be practiced, Matthew now stress the internal disposition. Expressions like ‘in spirit,’ ‘pure in heart,’ ‘thirst for righteousness,’ ‘meek,’ and ‘merciful,’ do no longer first of all point to a social group, as was the case with the poor, etc., in the Q-source, but to a certain mentality, a moral disposition." [Emphasis added: et] Herman Hendrickx, Sermon on the Mount, (Manila, Philippines: East Asian Pastoral Institute, 1979), p. 19.
"Lk 6:20 calls the poor as such blessed, and almost all biblical scholars agree that Jesus too addressed the materially poor, [sic] and that the phrase ‘in spirit’ was added by Matthew. [Emphasis added: et] Ibid., p. 21.
"In line with this, and by means of Mt 5:5, 7-10, the beatitudes have been developed into a catechism of discipleship." [Emphasis added: et] Ibid., p. 22.
CHURCH’S POINT OF VIEW
"A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. …The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.
"The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God. [St. Gregory of Nyssa, De beatitudinibus, 1: PG 44, 1200D.]
"[The theological virtues] dispose Christians to life in a relationship with the Holy Trinity." Catechism of the Catholic Church, (Mission Hills: Benziger Publishing Co, 1994), #1803 and #1812, pp. 445-6.
ILLUSTRATION(I PLAYED WITH VARIOUS ILLUSTRATIONS BEFORE SETTLING ON THE ABOVE)
ALTERNATE ILLUSTRATION #1: (At a Catholic funeral) "I worked with Mr. Wong for thirty years. We were good friends. I had no idea that he was a Jesus’ disciple."
ALTERNATE ILLUSTRATION #2: (At a Catholic funeral) "I always new Mr. Wong was a disciple of Jesus. But he was different. He had a "different spirit."
ALTERNATE ILLUSTRATION #3: Suppose the Governor of Hong Kong were to suddenly have a vision from Jesus? Jesus was carrying a bible: And Jesus said: "In these past years the government of China has caused a lot of grief to my disciples. You are ordered to make reparations. I want you to give ten thousand Hong Kong dollars to each of my disciples in Hong Kong." The Governor said: "Alright, but I have one question. How will I be able to recognize a true disciple of Jesus?"
Jesus opened the bible and cut out Exodus 20: 1-17 and handed it to the Governor. The Governor studied it carefully and argued: "But Buddhists, Taoists and even many atheistic communists also obey the commandments. Our treasury will be bankrupt!"
Then Jesus realized that they had to establish a more practical criterion. So he again took the bible and cut out another passage. He said: "Here is how you can recognize a true follower of mine." Based on the criteria in this passage, the government of China was able to indemnify all Jesus’ disciples in Hong Kong.
Can anyone guess which verses of Scripture the angel gave to the Governor?
Chewing, Digesting and Practicing God’s Word
4th Sunday of Year A Matt 4: 1-12
nAME_________ Something you would like to kick ________Grade______
Blessed are the Poor i_ s______.