4th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Authentic Christianity

The Gospel passages chosen for the next few Sundays comprise the substance of what we traditionally know as "the Sermon on the Mount." These words of Jesus as recounted by Matthew make up the heart of the Gospel, the substance of the "Good News;" and the evangelist spent of lot of time - one hundred and eleven verses - making sure that this message would be remembered down through the ages. The Sermon on the Mount represents the New Sinai, the new Covenant, the NEW Commandment. This is the summary of all that it means to be Christian and Catholic.

The quality or value of any sermon is only measured by the effect it has on the lives of those who hear it, and on the community of the human family. Keeping the commandments of God, and living according to the Gospel of Jesus is not just a matter of personal holiness. If the gift of faith enables us to hear the Word of God and live by it, then we are expected to share that gift with others. If we are redeemed and sanctified by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, then we, too, are sent by Him to redeem and sanctify our world in His name.

We are called to bring the brightness of holiness and goodness to the world. We are called to overcome darkness, to drive out gloom and sadness and depression. Once again, we are reminded of our baptismal commitment - not only to follow the Gospel in our own lives, but also to be living witnesses of the Good News for all we encounter on life's journey.

The Gospel, the beatitudes, the example of Jesus - all of these are for living not just listening! We don't just memorize these words; we don't just keep them handy in a notebook that we can occasionally refer to; we don't just give them lip-service; we don't just preach them to our children and to our neighbors. Jesus goes further and warns that the salt can go flat, tasteless; the light can be hidden, useless; that we can easily blind ourselves to the truth.

Christian living requires work, lots of sacrifice, discipline and love. It takes heroic love to enflesh the Beatitudes in our relationships. It's not really easy to be poor, to be merciful, to be meek, to be peacemakers, to hunger and thirst for justice. It takes a lot of courage to be persecuted and ridiculed and mocked for being authentic Christians, for being Christ-like. It takes faith and trust in God to admit our own weaknesses and dependence upon one another - rather than looking at each other's faults.

At the heart of the Gospel is the insistence of Jesus that our love be "inclusive" - all-inclusive, with no exception. And that is probably the most difficult thing about being an authentic Christian. Almost naturally, instinctively, our love and our concern tend to be exclusive. We are comfortable with people who are like us, in color, religion, and economic status. We find it easy to be good to those who like us, those who are attentive to us, those who understand us.

If we listen carefully to the words of Jesus, it is very clear that he wants us to exclude no one from our love - not the beggar, the borrower, the adulteress, the leper, the widow, the poor, the orphan, the enemy. Each of us can make our own list of the "most unwanted", those whom we find most difficult to forgive, to feel sympathy for, to offer compassion to.

Living the Gospel is indeed a constant challenge. It makes us reexamine our mental attitudes, our actions, our speech, and many of the prejudices we grow up with. Hopefully, as we prepare for the Season of Lent, we will continue to be more sensitive to the ways that we exclude certain people from the embrace of our affection. We will constantly try to resist deep-rooted suspicions we nurture against persons who, in some way, are "different" from us. 

Jesus makes it clear that there is no easy path to ushering in God's reign.  It demands purity of heart, a commitment to peace, readiness to forgive, generosity, the endurance of persecution and calumny, truly being neighbor to those need, renouncing self, being ready to take the hard road.  The job description calls for large, loving, generous hearts.