JUNE 23, 2005, HOMILY- GENESIS 16:6b- 12, 15, 16; Mt 7:21- 29
JESUS FINISHED THIS DISCOURSE AND LEFT THE CROWDS SPELLBOUND AT HIS TEACHING FOR HE TAUGHT WITH AUTHORITY. The discourse referred to here is the lengthy Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was, of course, a magnificent speaker who had the rare gift of communicating sublime truths in direct, simple and poetic language. His words challenged intellectuals and at the same time spoke to the heart of the simple, uneducated. His audience on this occasion was, Matthew tells us, the common people. Living in the province of Galilee they were largely bereft of the opportunities for theological learning and the culture more readily accessible in Jerusalem. These were the people among whom Peter, John and most of the apostles lived and with whose provincial accents they spoke.
It is perhaps worth remarking, on the other hand, that these cultural traits do not imply these provincials were less endowed intellectually and spiritually, in spite of the prejudices that commonly lead people raised in the big city to consider them inferior. Among such persons as these our Lord was inspired to preach one of the most sublime and influential sermons of all time, even though originally it did not include all that Matthew has brought together in a single talk
The Beatitudes alone would suffice to immortalize this occasion; they continue to challenge and inspire many today and are the admiration even of persons who do not believe in him as theSon of God.
Admiration and appreciation, however deeply felt and expressed, are not a sufficient response to Jesus’ words. That is precisely the point he makes in today’s Gospel passage. "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, ut only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.". The first requirement of the Father’s will is the obedience of faith. This faith manifests itself precisely by putting into practice the teaching our Lord proclaimed. Only by putting into effect his directives and by acting with sincerity of heart, while understanding that his grace alone makes this possible, can we be pleasing to the Father.
As Jesus’ popularity grew, word of his person and his message came to the ears of the authorities and the men of learning, the leaders of the people. These were the persons who set the tone of society and whose views dominated popular opinion in the capital. Among them or Lord found but scant appreciation; on the contrary, he met with hostile resistance from the more sophisticated. On more than one occasion Matthew informs us how our Lord viewed their unwillingness to accept his revelation. "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to little ones."(11:5) And again: "they are blind guides of the blind." In other words, it is not to the cultured, the learned and the privileged who, as such have superior insights as to the plan and will of God for salvation and so the meaning of life. Rather, it is those who are poor of spirit, who accept in trusting faith the person and teaching of God’s anointed who understand God’s plan and are carrying out his will.
Yesterday, the Gospel text reminded us of other words of our Lord recorded in this same sermon. There he warned against those who falsely explain the meaning of life: "Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but underneath are wolves on the prowl." Today increasingly in our society the learned and scientific classes are spreading views that oppose with a show of plausibility the revelation brought by the Lord. Such pretensions made in the name of reason and science are as old as the Church herself. Gnosticism assumed a variety of forms and misled many for some centuries. St John and St Paul already had cause to warn the faithful against them. The Lord foresaw this attack on faith and repeatedly pointed out that the answer to life is not available to reason alone; it is a gift of the Spirit, revealed by the Father. Salvation is offered as a choice made in trusting faith. The grace to believe is freely given, not to the great and wise as such, but to the humble and lowly of heart, however wise and learned, however, lacking in cultural advantages as the first of the beatitudes reminds us: "Blessed are the poor of spirit for there is the kingdom of heaven."
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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