This homily, based on Mark 4:35-41, was delivered at the St. John Catholic School, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
For me, it’s not easy to read the Beatitudes–not to mention to preach about it. Maybe it’s because in the Beatitudes, our Lord Jesus blesses the very people the world considers cursed. Consider his list:
- the poor in spirit
- the mourners
- the meek
- those who seek justice
- the merciful
- the pure of heart
- the peacemakers, and
- the persecuted.
If we pay attention, there are actually three groups of people on this list, and none of them would we normally consider blessed. First on the list are those whom our Lord calls “poor in spirit.” Biblical scholars tell us that the poor in spirit are those who depend not so much on themselves or on riches and material things, but on God. Not very realistic, you might say.
The second group includes those who are suffering–the mourners, those who seek justice, and those who are persecuted. Clearly, these are not people we aspire to become.
Finally, there are what we can call “do-gooders” and “nice guys” on the list–such as the merciful, the pure of heart, and the peacemakers–but remember the saying about nice guys finishing last?
It would seem, therefore, that the Beatitudes is about the faint-hearted, the downtrodden, and–to put it bluntly–those considered “losers” in our world. All we need to do is check our Newsfeed to see how those who embody the opposite of the Beatitudes seem to be raking it in and beating the competition. It reminds us how different our Lord’s values are from ours and how counter-cultural Christian faith should be. The Beatitudes is intended to correct the way the world the way it is; that’s why it has also been dubbed as “the world turned right-side up.”
For me, the Beatitudes isn’t simply a series of peculiar and unrealistic blessings uttered by the Lord. Rather it is an invitation for each one of us to make a choice. Whose blessings do you seek? The world’s or the Lord’s? If it is the world’s blessings that you desire, then discard everything our Lord says in the Beatitudes–or at least, shelve them away, and embrace the three things that the world promotes and rewards: riches, honor, and most of all, pride.
But if it is, however, the Lord’s blessings that we value and want, He invites us to become poor-in-spirit, to entrust ourselves to Him, to walk with humility, always depending on His providence and seeking only His approval.
I saw a TV show many years ago about Superman. The TV series was called “Smallville”–about Clark Kent before he discovers his superpowers and becomes Superman. The character of Superman has been considered a rich and powerful metaphor for Christ, but today I’d like to talk about his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, especially as compared to Lionel Luthor, the father of Clark’s best friend and future nemesis, Lex.
Towards the end of one memorable episode, Clark and Lex sit together outdoors—a sad, quiet moment between best friends who, we know, will later turn into mortal enemies. Clark and Lex talk about life in general and their respective fathers in particular. They know that their fathers cannot be more different from one another: Clark’s father, Jonathan, is a simple and principled man who works hard every day in their farm just to make both ends meet. Lex’s father, Lionel, on the other hand, is extravagantly rich, a tycoon who is willing to do anything and to step on anyone—including his own son—to make himself even richer and more powerful.
Lionel Luthor is extremely successful by the world’s standards, but his own son Lex despises him. Clark’s father, Jonathan, on the other hand, is a poor man by comparison, but he is a good man. As a result, he is loved and respected by his family, his neighbors, and even by his son’s best friend. One father dreams to be the king of the world; the other desires only to do what is right, to be a child of God.
The Beatitudes challenges us to make a choice–whether to live our lives like Lionel Luthor or Jonathan Kent. The Jonathan Kents of this world challenge us to examine ourselves, and their lives question the Lionel Luthor in us with all our self-satisfaction and smugness.
Right before the closing credits, Lex Luthor sums up his conversation with Clark by paying his friend’s dad the biggest compliment of all. He tells his friend, “Clark, my dad is the type who will rule the world, but yours will inherit the earth.”
PS: Apologies for last week’s absence. I was traveling and by the time I had access to wifi, it was too late for a Sunday reflection.