Fourth Sunday of Advent

What if everything in life was reversed? If the winners of contests actually ended being the losers, and
the losers ended up winning it all? What if becoming rich and famous was a bad thing, and living a life of
anonymous invisibility was a supreme virtue? What if beauty and youth was a detriment to be overcome in
pursuit of looking old? What kind of topsy-turvy world would that be? And would you want to be part of
such a world?


You might think this is the script for a bad dream, especially if you are winning at the traditional game
of gaining wealth, good looks, popularity, and power. But our gospel today, the opening lines from Jesus’
famous Sermon on the Mount, reads much like this.


Jesus introduces a surprising-even upsetting-reversal of all of our traditional logic and values. These
sayings, called the Beatitudes, seem so harmless and safe when we are children memorizing them in Faith
Formation. But take a closer look. Jesus holds out the promise of blessedness, true happiness and
fulfillment, to those who seem least likely candidates to be or feel blessed-the poor, the bereaved, the
meek, the hungry. This cast of characters does not sound like our picture of the blessed ones. We think the
blessed ones are the beautiful people who live eternally young and healthy. Give us the lives of the rich and
famous. That is the blessedness we pursue.


But Jesus turns this pursuit upside down. Or perhaps we should say he turns us right side up. In these
brief nine statements of blessedness, Jesus sketches a new-world order. It is a subversive set of words,
designed to wake us up, shake us up, and straighten us up. These Beatitudes are anything but safe. Let’s
take a look, and listen, to these sayings again.


Blessed are the poor in spirit. Jesus calls us, whatever the amount of our portfolio, to be toward God
as one who is poor, without pretense, approaching God with heads and hearts bowed low, with arms and
hands open to receive, with utter dependence and hope cast on God to provide blessing. The first obstacle
to a blessed life is not wealth. It is pride.


Blessed are they who mourn. Is Jesus saying, “Happy are the sad?” No. He is saying that once we have
emptied ourselves of pretense and pride before a holy God, we become instantly aware of our un-holiness,
our unworthiness. As we come into God’s embrace, as we sense His love, we begin to care deeply that
nothing in our lives should disappoint Him. This mourning is repentance.


Blessed are the meek. In the scripture, “meekness” is not the same as “weakness.” Biblical meekness is
inner power that is guided, focused under God’s control, rather than power used for selfish purposes. It
assumes a certain willingness to be teachable, moldable by God.


Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. When a person has emptied themselves of
their own pride, mourned their sinfulness, and become teachable to God, that person can receive the
fullness that only God can give. What greater pleasure is there than to stand in right relationship with God?
It is like water to the thirsty, or food to the hungry.


Blessed are the merciful. They simply give away the mercy they so richly and freely received from
God. The pure in heart are authentic persons, without double standards or double lives. And in a broken
world like ours, these blessed ones act as salt and leaven, active agents of God’s healing. Again they simply
give away the blessing they received, and peacemaking is a supreme example of such reconciling love in
action.


Finally, Jesus forewarns his followers that a blessed life is not free of suffering. A follower of Christ
who takes these steps toward God and toward their fellowman as a lifestyle will still suffer
misunderstanding, will be accused of false motives, and could even be persecuted or killed. It happened to
some of the prophets. It happened to Jesus himself. It happened to many of the apostles and the martyrs of
the Church. But take heart, Jesus says, for this life is not the whole play; it is only one act. In the end, the
blessedness Jesus describes will not only be experienced in this life, but even more so in the world to come.
Until then, let’s turn this upside down world right side up. And may God bless you as you do.