Fourth Sunday Ordinary Time 2011
January 30, 2011
The "reward motive" is very much a part of the American psyche, and in some degree in all the peoples of the world. In our culture, where freedom is the highest virtue, people are expected to use it to their own advantage. There is no class system here where one is expected to accept one's place. It is claimed that "any child born in America can grow up to be President." The message is that hard work and honest effort will be rewarded, and a more subtle message is that rewards are the only reason for hard work and honest effort. Thus, the reward motive is accepted as normal. There is that word again, "normal". I used to ask my 7th graders to define normal? Who is to decide what is normal or who is normal for that mater. We're to find it's much harder to define then we thought.
Keep this word in mind as we carry on and maybe we will have to decide that we are not the best ones to define normal.
Consider the reward motive that attracts more people to religion than any other interest. Consider the appeal of both avoiding hell and being assured of heaven. It wouldn't be a difficult thing to sell. Consider, too, the so-called "health and wealth gospel." Is it any wonder that the media hucksters of this kind of message stay in business? Other appeals may be less crass and more subtle, but there is something inconsistent, if not fraudulent, in inviting people to follow the loving and suffering Savior for what they can get out of it! On the other hand, who would take up a cross and follow Jesus if they knew it would only lead to suffering and painful death?
We redeem the reward motive as Christians by our unqualified commitment to Jesus Christ. We come to Christ, not because of what He can do for us, but because of His unique and compelling worth. Christ is not a deal-maker. He does not entice us or appeal to our lower nature. He invites us to become a part of His mission and movement, not for His own self-aggrandizement, but to help accomplish God's purposes in the world. Any "rewards" come as a by-product of our commitment to Him alone, a commitment that seeks no rewards, other then to see Him face to face.
Among the things most people want most is happiness. Jesus didn't promise happiness, but He had a great deal to say about it. His "beatitudes" are a primary example, "Blessed" means "happy," not in frivolous gaiety, but sublime happiness. "Blessed are" might be translated "Truly happy are." Hear what Jesus has to say on true happiness:
BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT. The poor in spirit are those who are not proud in spirit, but know they must have help from God. By sensing their great need of it, they receive it. When one's pride is gone, blessedness becomes possible. Trusting in God puts one in God's Kingdom!
BLESSED ARE THE SORROWING. We can't understand the evil and suffering in the world, but we can grieve over it. We can identify with another person's suffering. We can allow ourselves to feel and to care, as Jesus did. In caring for the suffering of others, we grow in our understanding God's Love.
BLESSED ARE THE MEEK. The meek shall inherit the earth? The meek are not the cowardly or the weak. They are humble and trusting, as opposed to those who are arrogantly independent. The earth does not belong to the selfish and self-assertive who seek to possess it, but to those who receive all things as gifts from God!
BLESSED ARE THEY WHO HUNGER AND THIRST FOR HOLINESS. The beatitude speaks of craving goodness and holiness in the way that needy people want water and food. They are blessed who yearn for the victory of right over wrong. They are assured that the holiness of God will ultimately prevail.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO SHOW MERCY. The merciful know that justice is not the answer to every need. We need and receive Mercy from God. We show Mercy when we put our own concerns aside and focus compassionately on the need of another. What we extend to others is often what we receive from others.
BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART. The word "pure" means "clean." Purity of heart is contrasted to the ritual cleansing of hands and or body. Jesus had no patience for superficial religion. The heart is the inner self. Purity of cleanness of heart is marked by simplicity and integrity, as opposed to duplicity, and is the way to God.
BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS. True peacemaking is not merely the absence of conflict. It is positive and active. Jesus taught that God's true children are those who are joined with God in the tasks of making peace. Peace includes the ending of war and strife, but also to seek harmony between persons, through harmony with God.
BLESSED ARE THOSE PERSECUTED FOR THEIR HOLINESS. Persecution or abuse, as such, is not a blessing. But there is great blessing in suffering for or with Christ. A heavenly reward is not simply a future blessing, but a promise for those who suffer for what must ultimately prevail or come to be.
Happiness is a universal desire, but a rare possession. The paradox is that those who seek happiness are the least likely to find it, while those who give of themselves to a cause or challenge worthy of their lives no longer seek happiness. True happiness is a by-product. Jesus called on His hearers to take up their crosses and follow Him. Some did, some didn't. Those who did often paid with their lives, but a pagan observer wrote of how these followers of Jesus as they went to their burial grounds, "with a little clapping of hands and dancing of feet."
Now maybe we can answer for ourselves as to what is normal. Reflecting on what is normal in the Eyes of God, places us in right relationship with God and one another. Also gives us the self-esteem so many of us are searching.
'Thank you' to Deacon Kaas, for letting me post his reflection here.
- " 'Only Say the Word ...' - Impressive Faith"
(November 29, 2010)
- "Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell, and Warm Fuzzies"
(August 8, 2010)
- "Wealth, the Vatican, the White House, Corporate Headquarters, and Cultural Values"
(February 4, 2010)
- "Fourth Sunday in ordinary Time, 2010"
(January 31, 2010)
- "Penticost Sunday, 2009: A Reflection"
(May 31, 2009)