Reflections for the Week of Sunday January 29, 2017 Fourth after Epiphany

Gospel: Matthew 5.1-12. This text is the Beatitudes. ‘Beatitude’ means ‘blessing’ which means ‘to be happy.’ Jesus says if you are mourning in this life, are even persecuted, or reviled falsely on His account, rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven… These are the words with which Jesus began His public ministry with the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7). This is the fourth week of the liturgical season of Epiphany as Jesus “shows forth” the light of His divine presence in a dark world. He promises blessedness to those who turn to Him. How do we understand this promise that He will bless us if we follow Him in this world of sin?

Let us consider two people, A and B, who are suffering in this world, the former of whom is a non-believer, and the latter believes in Jesus. The former responds to his suffering by asking “why me?” He doesn’t think he deserves what he has got, and blames all kinds of things for his pain, perhaps even God. He is angry, depressed, and doesn’t understand His predicament. He sees nowhere to turn and nothing to relieve his pain. All he can do is suffer in quiet desperation without understanding and without hope. B, on the other hand, being educated into God’s (and Satan’s) ways through Scripture knows that life is filled with suffering. Like Job, he doesn’t know to what this particular adversity is due, but he knows that God tests His believers to see whether they respond with faith and trust in Him or not. The Christian does trust Him and casts his burden of suffering on Him and is stimulated and empowered by the Holy Spirit to trust in God and to strive to respond to this challenge by trying to behave in a way that will please God and reveal his faith in Him. James said, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (Jas 1.2-4). We are to rejoice in our suffering because it is a test which leads us to want to respond with love for God and faith and trust and hope so that we will please God and pass the test with flying colors. This attitude, given by the Holy Spirit (it’s too unnatural to be merely human), produces joy in us even in our suffering because we know that we are pleasing Him and growing closer to Him.We know that He loves us so much that He died for us, so that He does everything for our good (“all things work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called for His purpose” (Rm 8.28)).

What good can come from our suffering? James has just told us–patience. and beyond patience, as we turn to Him our faith is tested and strengthened; and beyond this we are drawn closer to God through Jesus Christ, and we are given the mind of Christ, and we become like Him as we suffer with Him. Unlike the Israelites wandering in the desert, we don’t grumble and complain (Ex 17.2-7); we trust and obey. We are also told that having been justified by faith, we have peace with God so “we also glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rm 5.3-5). If God wants the best for us and is all-powerful, we can trust in Him.

Memory Verse: “We have been given exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love” (2 Pet. 1.4-7).

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