Sunday, January 29, 2023

From Huat, Ah! To Hosanna!

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13; Psalm 145 (146):6-10; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12a

Picture: by Galen Crout on Unsplash

My dear friends, what does it mean when someone shouts, Huat, ah!? We know the answer, right? It’s an expression of desire, an aspiration to prosperity. Inspired by a particular vision of the good life, according to which happiness means financial wealth and material success. I can imagine, for example, a fictional visitor to our parish, on a busy Sunday morning, gazing awestruck at our gloriously packed carpark, and then being moved to shout, Huat, ah! I mention this not just because we’re mid-way through the celebrations of the Lunar New Year, but because our scriptures seem to offer us something similar today. Aspirations inspired by a certain vision of the good life, a particular way of looking at things.

In the gospel, Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount by listing eight so-called beatitudes. Reasons why someone might be considered happy or blessed. Dispositions to which we might be drawn to aspire. Except that these dispositions are the opposite of typical Lunar New Year aspirations. Not prosperity, but poverty. Not success, but hunger for justice, and mourning over its lack. How can anyone aspire to such depressing things? As we ponder this question, it’s helpful to notice that the beatitudes actually flow from a three-fold look. First, the reading begins by telling us that it was only upon seeing the crowds, that Jesus went up the hill, and began to teach. The Lord’s instruction is a response to the many who are broken, afflicted, and lost, the very people to whom Jesus had been ministering earlier.

And yet, although prompted by them, the Lord’s teaching is offered not to the crowds, but to the disciples. It is to them that he shifts his gaze, after climbing the hill. And it is while looking at the disciples, that Jesus is moved to speak about what true blessedness looks like. That contrary to what all the commercials tell us, the good life consists not in wealth and success, but in finding and taking one’s place in God’s Kingdom. How? By becoming poor and hungry, meek and mourning, like Jesus. So that not only are the beatitudes prompted by Jesus’ gaze at the crowds and at his disciples, they also provide an intimate portrait of the Lord himself.

And it is this same three-fold look–at the crowds, at the disciples, and at the Lord–that we are invited to keep sharing. So that we might aspire to draw close to Jesus, who though he was rich, became poor, to draw close to us (2 Cor 8:9). To seek the Lord with all our heart. To seek integrity and humility in him. To let him become our wisdom, and our virtue… our holiness, and our freedom. To learn to patiently accept the trials that life often places in the path of a disciple, just as the Lord accepted his Cross, in order to lead us all into the fullness of Life. And to even be moved to give voice to that joyful shout that greeted Jesus, as he entered Jerusalem on Passion Sunday, and which we ourselves will sing shortly: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Sisters and brothers, amid the cries of Huat, ah! ringing out all around us, how shall we cultivate and express our own aspirations for the Lord and his Kingdom in the days ahead?

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