4th Sunday A
Sunday 29th January 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Seeing the suffering and distressed crowds who had come to him for healing, Jesus went up the holy mountain. Taking his place as a teacher, his disciples came to him and he began to teach them.
God blesses those who accept their vulnerability.
They are open to God in all things.
God blesses those whose hearts are broken.
They will know God’s healing love.
God blesses those who are neither aggressive or weak.
Accepting themselves they will possess all things.
God blesses those consumed by zeal for God.
They shall receive their desires.
God blesses those who give freely from a compassionate heart.
They will share God’s heart.
God blesses those who desire only God.
God will be radiant in them.
God blesses those who create peace.
They will be recognized as born of God.
God blesses those scorned for desiring God.
They will be part of the reign of God.
God blesses you when you are unjustly hated, reviled and persecuted for belonging to God.
Rejoice, celebrate, because your fulfilment will be with the prophets, the wise ones of God, who were persecuted before you.
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
God is the one who always keeps faith,
who is close when we are overwhelmed.
God feeds those who hunger,
frees those held captive.
God opens the eyes of the blind,
lifts the broken-hearted,
protects the asylum-seeker,
embraces the weak and marginalised.
God loves the just
but upsets the plans of the wicked.
God’s love presides at all times,
our God, from age to age.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, the wisdom of your Spirit hovers over our lives at all times, working always for our good. Too often we miss the vision of your love. As we ponder the mystery of the Beatitudes of Jesus, may our hearts, minds and spirits be open to his Presence within us and may our lives radiate his love. We ask this in Jesus’ name confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
This Sunday’s Gospel begins a series of excerpts from the Sermon on the Mount, the first of the five teaching blocks in the Gospel of Matthew. The Beatitudes, as given in this reading, are unfortunately, not situated in the context in which they were taught. Jesus had been ministering to the poor and distressed of Israel. In the midst of these people, he gives this teaching to his disciples (The painting by Annigoni illustrates this dramatically, see Visual Mediation). As we read the inspiring words of the Beatitudes, we need to be conscious that they were spoken in the midst of broken people, who did not feel very blessed, and they were spoken to new and insecure disciples, who did not feel very confident.
A good teacher, especially to adults, gives the class an idea of the goal which they hope to attain by the end of the course. At the very beginning of his teaching, Matthew has Jesus beautifully proclaim in the Beatitudes, the almost impossible ideal of the Christian Life.
The Beatitudes are written in a form of Hebrew poetry. Each Beatitude consists of two lines, in which the second line brings to its fulfilment the activity of the first line. It is important to remember this because we are likely to read the lines with our Western idea of cause and effect: if you act like this God will reward you with that. If we study the Beatitudes that way we end up in a mess for we see that what they promise often does not look like it is being fulfilled now.
Approaching the Beatitudes as poetry is a key to understanding them. Even if we ‘don’t read poetry’ we can remember that they are teaching greater truths than ordinary information: they are schooling our minds and hearts to look at the big picture. The background imagery comes from the Old Testament. It is in the person of Christ that they are truly embodied and, while they begin to express the blessing of the Christian life here and now, it is only in the fulfilment of salvation that they will be fully realised.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
Our Christian faith is a strange thing. We live in the midst of this world, with all its beauty and grandeur but also with its sin, ugliness and downright brutality. Without ever fully understanding why, we proclaim that God is good and that all things work to our good. Oddly enough, we proclaim this not from our experience of God rewarding us for being good people. I don’t know too many Christians who have won the lottery, or been great successes on the stock market because of their faith. Rather, we proclaim that God is good usually because we have experienced the blessing of God in the midst of brokenness and suffering. Having landed rock bottom on our backs, we can be transformed by the beauty of the stars. Ironically, we would never wish on another the suffering that has brought us so low, but we would dearly love others to share in the blessing that we have received.
The Beatitudes invite us to look at our lives from a contemplative, a mystical point of view. For example, what happens when we truly show mercy? We do not give mercy, rather the mercy of God flows through us and we are transformed. Another example, the person who has faced their addictions knows what poverty of spirit is. Embracing that poverty, they can know the power of God working against their compulsions.
The Beatitudes offer us eight different ways of recognising the times when God’s blessing breaks into our world. Poverty, grief, zeal for God, working for peace etc are ways that reveal to us our fragility and vulnerability and often cause us great suffering. Cracking open the shell of our self, they allow us to thrust our roots deep into our humanity, while reaching up to be feed by the light and love of God.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
The business belonging to one of my brothers was one of the first to fail in the long drought that Australia experienced some years ago. Having lost everything he, with his wife and large family, had to travel up and down the east coast of Australia with his work. They learnt to budget extremely well but even with that, one Saturday in a caravan park near Coffs Harbour they reached rock bottom. Standing outside their van, they saw, down the lane, a ute pull out, its owner leaving. His vehicle paused where they were standing and the guy said: ‘Here, I won this at the chook raffle last night.’ Reaching back into the cabin he pulled our a magnificent meat tray and a good bottle of red. Then he drove off. They didn’t know his name, he had never spoken to them before. That evening, while watching the sunset over Coffs Beach and enjoying the barbequed rump and wine, they both agreed that they were glad they had gone bankrupt. Since then many other things have happened to make them glad they had experienced such a serious financial disaster. Travelling around, they have had their experience of Church widened and enriched, their children developed awesome social skills and they have experienced the kindness of the poor and marginalised just as they have had the opportunity to show kindness to the same people. What had seemed like a disaster became an opportunity for grace.
Most of us reading this have experienced events like this in our lives. Something has happened to us which initially seemed terrible…and often it remains terrible. But as we have embraced the reality of the situation and made some room for God to move within it, a moment has come when our understanding is transformed and we can recognise that the situation has also been a Beatitude, a blessing for us. This is not just acceptance, or reconciling ourselves to the reality of the situation, but rather we see how God works creatively for our good. It is a mystical way of seeing how God writes straight on the crooked lines of our life. Why do I say that most of us have experienced this? Simply because this way of seeing, this mystical vision, is integral to being a Christian. It is our gift as children of God.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
In this picture of The Sermon on the Mount by the Italian artist Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988) we do not have the idyllic pastoral scene of many other representations of this scene. Rather we have crowd hugging the sides on an inhospitable mountain. Men and women: the lame, the weak, the distressed, all huddle around the figure of Christ, who rises as a decisive leader in the midst of the suffering masses.
This picture by Gustave Doré the French illustrator (1832 –1883) shows a pastoral scene, serene, calm balanced with the central focal point of the picture being Christ’s hand pointing decisively to heaven.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
We have known blessings through our life. Mull on the various times when you have felt blest by God. Begin with the positive blessings that have come to you, for example on the birth of a child.
Later mull on the times that seemed like a disaster and then were recognised as a blessing.
If you have the space and time, mull on those situations which you find hard to understand and accept. Then ask God to bless you in your heart and understanding.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the Love of your God.
As you rest in God’s presence take the text of the Beatitudes and reflect how you have experienced in your life what each one is about. The questions below are only suggested springboards for your reflection.
When have you discovered God in the midst of your vulnerability?
When has your heart been broken, only to discover a hidden comfort?
When had you dealt with a difficult situation, with a strength and gentleness you didn’t know you had?
When have you felt zealous for God?
When has compassion flowed out in your life?
When have you truly desired God?
When have you worked for peace?
When have you been scorned for your beliefs and known that testing as a blessing for your heart?
Rest in the Love of your God.