It is indeed rare that all four Scripture selections at Mass – Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament and Gospel readings – promote an identical message. The New Testament readings especially stand out from the other choices since they tend to be continuous passages from a given text, like a letter of St. Paul, rather than assorted episodes chosen to highlight a certain theme. Yet this coming Sunday, the four texts not only agree in topic but almost exactly in words and phrasing.
In the first reading from the Jewish Scriptures, Zephaniah addresses the “humble of the earth” and asks them to “seek justice” and to “seek humility.” He writes of a “people humble and lowly,” who will take “refuge in the Name of the Lord” and “shall do no wrong and speak no lies.” “Nor shall there be found in their mouths a deceitful tongue,” the prophet insists. These are “the remnant of Israel,” those select souls who will cling to the message of the prophets, even when challenged by alien forces. Psalm 146 chosen for the day continues the same theme of justice for those who recognize their own poverty and admit their need for God: “The LORD keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed…The LORD raises up those who were bowed down. The LORD loves the just…but the way of the wicked he thwarts.” A vulnerable and oppressed people will use their humble circumstances to trust all the more in God as their sole refuge.
St. Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, expresses exactly the same sentiments as these Old Testament sources. The Apostle sees any claim to autonomy on the part of the human person as the dominant sin. Thinking that a person lives and is saved by one’s own resources is the ultimate pride. The true believer will boast only in the Lord. St. Paul writes, “Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. As it is written, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”
Zephaniah focuses on “the humble of the earth.” Psalm 146 speaks to those who are “bowed down.” St. Paul is concerned about “the foolish of the world” and the “weak of the world” and the “lowly and despised of the world” and those who “count for nothing.” Clearly these three seers are in total agreement with the solemn declarations to be made by Christ as he sat atop the mount of the beatitudes and outlined his own regimen for salvation.
In the mind and words of Christ, and quite pointedly in St. Matthew’s celebrated beatitudes, the “blessed” very simply are those who recognize their human emptiness and their consequent need of God. Namely, the “humble...the bowed down…and the weak…” just cited are those “blessed” in the mind of Christ. The “poor in spirit” are those who look deeply within themselves and perceive a spiritual poverty that only God can fill. Those “who mourn” are similarly experiencing a loss and that only God can fully repair. The “meek” are those who recognize the emptiness of earthly power and seek true strength from God alone. Certainly those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” acknowledge the meagerness of earthly justice and seek a more encouraging order for human society. Undoubtedly all these are “the humble and the lowly” of which Zephaniah wrote and the “bowed down” mentioned in the Psalm as well as the “weak of the world” mentioned by St. Paul. These all admit the shallowness of life apart from God and genuinely seek him as the true source of spiritual strength.
The “merciful” are those who likewise recognize the inner poverty of their neighbor and can sympathize with all human weaknesses. The “clean of heart” are those who acknowledge that no earthly gratification can ever fulfill the needs of the human person knowing God is their only full satisfaction. The “peacemakers” as “children of God” admit that full satisfaction is not a matter of human discussion but a matter of spiritual obedience. Here again are found those whom the prophets and the Apostle list among those who “do no wrong and speak no lies,” as well as those who are “just” and those who “boast in the Lord.”
Blessedness or holiness or sanctity is the grace first of all to look within one’s soul and admit the spiritual poverty found there. The next step is the opening of one’s mind and heart to God, accepting him as the sole source of authentic spiritual abundance. Christ of course is the true mentor and support of these awesome accomplishments. As St. Paul writes, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”