March 14, 2021 9:00am at Saint Agnes Church in Naples, FL
1 Samuel 16, 1, 6-7, 100-13 + Psalm 23+ Ephesians 5, 8-14+ John 9, 1-41
In a striking and confrontational contradiction to popular thinking, Jesus challenges the idea of the time that God punishes sinners by inflicting terrible things upon them, like leprosy or blindness. Sadly, that terrible idea has not vanished entirely from the thinking of some. A lot of people like to think that way about the tragedies that strike out of nowhere when they look at others, or sometimes in self-pity wonder “what have I done wrong” or “why is God doing this to me.” That kind of thinking continues in spite of everything Jesus had to say and done. He never says it more clearly than in the incident we have just proclaimed. That man was not blind because he did something wrong, was bad, or because of his parents. That blindness, as with many tragic events, was an opportunity for God to be revealed in glory and in mercy. I’ve seen it time and time again. When I was teaching in a Catholic High School, one of our seniors was thrown from his car in a tragic accident that left him a quadriplegic. That young man’s courage and faith through it all transformed the most cynical and shallow classmates into awe-struck believers at how God could inspire and lift up someone whose whole future was changed in split second. Instead of raising money for their prom that year, and raised money to add a handicapped accessible wing on to his parent’s home. I stood in the midst of the smoldering wreckage of Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. In the middle of that chaos, a man with furry in his eyes ran up to me, got right in my face and said: “Hey Preacher, where is God now?” I said, can’t you see him crawling around in that rubble looking for his children?” That man stormed away, but I could see God, a God of mercy and compassion mourning the death of his people.
All those Pharisees and “leaders of the people” could see was a threat to their power, their prestige, and authority. They could not see the truth. They could not see what that blind man was gradually able to see. From a “man called, Jesus” to a “Prophet” to his “Lord”, that man began to see, and what had been his affliction became the means by which the visible works of God could bring someone thought to be a sinner or the son of sinners to believe. They threw him out of the synagogue. Jesus welcomed into the Kingdom where the Blessed are to be found.
Three nights this week, I am going propose to you how God’s works can be visible as I explore Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Some might think that the poor, the mourning, the persecuted, the hungry and thirsty are to be pitied. I want to suggest something else to you. What I believe Matthew proclaims is that the poor, sad, persecuted and hungry are really a revelation of what God is, Blessed. After all, isn’t that what we proclaim when plate of bread and cup of wine are lifted and we say: “Blessed are you, Lord God…” What we have in the Beatitudes is a description of God. What I hope you might discover three nights this week is that the Kingdom of God is rooted in the mystery of the one who proclaimed it and proclaims it still, the Lord Jesus Christ. He, a poor and persecuted, suffering servant, was meek and pure of heart. He hungered and thirsted for his Father’s holiness He touched the depths of human and divine sorrow, and alone showed perfect mercy.
My friends, it is only because we share his spirit that we can hear his words, accept them, and like the blind man today, gradually and painfully be ourselves transformed into the Blessed. There is only one place where the poorest and meekest of true humans is found, on the cross of Golgotha. The fellowship of the beatitudes is the fellowship of the crucified. With him his followers lose all and with him they find all. It is there, at the cross that we see the ultimate expression of Beatitude. It is there we see the poor the meek the merciful the peace maker and the persecuted. It is there that we see the ultimate beatitude. His Son, giving everything for us, is an ultimate act love. Dying to self makes our lives a Beatitude a full and free gift of ourselves to be the blessing of God to the world.