Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 5:1-12
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
These lines from C.S Lewis’ beloved book, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, are among my favorite literary quotes. The character of Mr. Beaver is speaking to Lucy and her sister and brother about Aslan, the lion king of the world of Narnia. Aslan also happens to be an archetype of Jesus. Upon reading the gospel for this Sunday, it was the words of Mr. Beaver that immediately sprang to my mind.
In this gospel passage, Jesus is giving His disciples and others that had gathered around Him, His Sermon on the Mount. Specifically, in these verses, we read the eight beatitudes. They are quite famous and ones that we hear sung in popular church hymns, see stitched into pillows, and find painted on farmhouse signs. But when read by the priest or deacon at Mass, are we really listening to the words that Jesus is preaching? Do we realize how radical and revolutionary these verses are? Do we feel a rush of energy and excitement? Do our minds race with questions and wonder? Are we dazzled by the boldness of Jesus’ words?
If like me, you often gloss over these verses due to their familiarity, then I encourage you to consider what Peter Kreeft writes, “Jesus is not comfortable. Jesus is not safe. Jesus is not boring. Jesus turns our world upside down. This is shown most radically in today’s gospel, with blessings, or graces that don’t look like blessings at all.”
Sister, let this gospel reading cause you to sit up a bit straighter in the pew on Sunday, maybe even on the edge of your seat, in anticipation and eagerness.
This fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time is anything but ordinary! These are not just platitudes, words heard too often to actually mean anything anymore. These words, spoken by God Himself, are the manifesto of His kingdom!
In these verses, Jesus ushers in the new covenant, a new Church, and with it, a revolution, one that was quite different from the expectations of the Jewish people. They were awaiting a Messiah that they believed would begin a political and social revolution, that would raise an army and free the Jewish people from the yoke of Roman rule. They expected a powerful ruler to overtake the Romans, who would reign over an earthly kingdom, placing the Jewish nation above all others.
Jesus did, in fact, begin a revolution. He did bring with Him freedom. He did break the yoke of slavery—but not the one that was tied to the Romans. No, He broke the yoke of slavery that attaches us all to the ruler of this world. He offers us freedom and, with it, a new way of living, one that was countercultural then and remains even more so today.
Jesus emphasizes that to be citizens of His kingdom is to personify attitudes and characteristics that citizens of the world consider weak, lowly, and undesirable. The word “blessed” that Jesus intentionally uses, when translated, “is the Greek word ‘makarios’ describing joy, which has its secret within itself, which is serene and untouchable…unassailable.”
If we are to experience this indescribable and supernatural joy that will remain with us amidst the obstacles, challenges, and suffering of life, Jesus is telling us that we must detach from the world only to fully attach ourselves to God. True Christian joy, Jesus exhorts, comes from uniting our sorrows and sufferings to Christ’s own. Serene joy comes from placing others' needs above our own, desiring that they be elevated whilst relegating ourselves. Untouchable joy pours into the hearts of those who desire that others be treated and loved equally, to those that long for mercy—not justice—to be shown to everyone without exception. Unassailable joy blesses those that call for peace and unity amidst anger and division and fills the hearts of those that continue to bear bold witness to Christ despite rejection, hurt, and persecution.
Following Jesus is not safe in a world that disfigures Him, ignores His authority, and deletes Him completely from the narrative. But we were not made to be safe. We were chosen to be citizens of the kingdom of God, and that often means stepping out of our comfort zones. We are called to bring light into the darkness, which isn’t always safe. By our decision to follow Jesus and walk with Him, we are choosing to turn our world upside down and boldly place Him back at the center, to insert Him back into the narrative, to bear witness to others of His power, mercy, and abiding love.
The American revolutionaries had the Declaration of Independence. As followers of Jesus, we have these verses. The beatitudes are a bold declaration of our freedom in Christ and a detachment from the yoke of the world around us. They are “triumphant shouts of bliss for a permanent joy that nothing in the world can ever take away.”
And yet, shouting about this bliss and actually living it out are two very different things. Living out the beatitudes is not for the faint of heart. Doing so won’t bestow on us great power, accolades, or money. Quite frankly, it’s just hard, even on a good day. Jesus knew that, which is why He gave us His own life as a model to follow, as well as the lives of our Lady, Saint Joseph, and the communion of saints to go to for intercessory prayer.
We can grow in fortitude to follow His lead by simply spending time with Him. The more we do that, through prayer, reading Scripture, in the liturgy of the Mass, in adoration, and by participating in the sacraments, the closer we will become to Him. Our hearts will soften the more time we spend with Him, and we will begin to see these characteristics emerge. We will desire to be merciful to others, to be poor in spirit, and to depend fully on Jesus. When we are sorrowful, we will not despair but seek comfort and hope in Him. We will desire humility and grow in confidence and faith. We will be bold in witnessing for others this serene and untouchable joy.
He may not be safe, but He is good.
In God’s grace,
Food for thought…or journaling:
Is there a beatitude that you particularly struggle with? Ask the Lord to meet you where you are, to bless you with grace to grow in this area, and to pour into your heart the fortitude and strength to pursue His call for your life.
Lord, I desire to feel this radical joy, this bliss that will remain in my heart, unchanged, unmoved, no matter what circumstances I may face. I desire for You to come into my heart and soften the hard edges, to shine a light in the darkness that I am clinging to, and to free me from worldly pursuits and attachments. I desire to boldly follow You, Lord. I choose You. Amen.
 Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (London: HarperCollins Children's, 1950), 80.
 Kreeft, Peter. “Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time” in Food for the Soul: Reflections on The Mass Readings Cycle A. (Park Ridge, IL: Word on Fire, 2022), 429.
 Barclay, William. “The Supreme Blessedness” in The Gospel of Matthew, Volume One. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 103.
 Ibid, 104.