22nd Sunday of the Year

Keep thinking of the Beatitudes

If we are true to the calling which we have received from Jesus, then the little parable which Jesus tells in today’s gospel should be a lesson in providing a sobering reminder for us of the danger of neglecting the beatitudes.

You remember the story of James and John who come to Jesus seeking the places of honour besides Jesus. Allow us, they said to sit one on your right and one on your left when you enter into your kingdom. Jesus responds to them by telling them that they don’t know what they are asking for; these places he says, belong to those to whom they have been allocated. James and John obviously had a different image of what was on offer, and Jesus has to let them know that the price which is to be paid for these places is nothing less than a partaking of the cup that he has to drink from. It is only when they realise that he is referring to the cross, that the reality of the message hits home. The danger that we overplay our own importance is an ever present reality which we have to guard against. The beatitudes are the template for ensuring that we do.

This is because they speak of the kingdom which is to come to pass, but in a way which offers us the very image of the the wedding party and its guests that is described in today’s gospel. When we consider who Jesus directs his great “blesseds” towards, we see what he means. To be called to the table with the poor in spirit, the gentle, the merciful , the pure in heart, the peacemakers is to be the real honour bestowed. To sit amongst those who thirst and hunger for what is right, and for those who weep and mourn for the state of our world, is the greatest accolade, because truly we are amongst those who have placed at the very heart of their lives, a vocation which speaks of a humbleness t challenges the world.

In his letter to the Philippians St Paul cites an early Christian hymn in which the status of Jesus as divine, is placed alongside his assuming the state of a slave. This condition is described as an emptying of himself of his equality with God, and in so doing he becomes one like us. But the hymn goes on to state that actually he went further than that, because it tells that he was even more humble. This emptying or stripping away of his nature led him ultimately to the cross and it is this moment of pouring himself away for us, which is the baptism he is to undergo and which he tells James and John they also are to experience.

The exaltation of which Jesus speaks in the gospel today is that very same exaltation which St Paul describes in the letter to the Philippians – God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all names – and to emphasise this his list of invitees are the poor, the crippled, the lame,the blind, the very ones for whom the kingdom is to come.
Happy then those who are persecuted in the case of right- theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

If we are to understand Jesus, then the concept of honour as it exists in our world, is an alien one when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. In his kingdom the honoured are those gentle and kindhearted souls who see the world as a place in which the love and mercy of God abound and who take pleasure in expressing that love, regardless of the cost to themselves.

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