Steve Zwettler's Homily from February 02, 2014

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·      Micah: 6:1-8

·      1 Corinthians 1:18-31

·      Matthew:  5:1-12



It is good to be with all of you again this Sunday, to break bread and to share God’s Word together.  Gathering in this way gives us all such strength and wisdom to live our lives with compassion and wisdom.


Stories give us life.  I share a story with you that is pertinent to our readings today, in particular, the Gospel of the Beatitudes.


Yevgeny Yevtushenko is a marvelous Russian poet and writer who is well-known throughout the world.  In his autobiography he shares a story from his early childhood which is directly connected to our Gospel reading today.  The story takes place in 1944 in Moscow’s Red Square.  The Russians and Germans had been at war for over 3 years.  The land was filled with bloodshed, hatred and chaos.  At this time, the Russians were gaining the upper hand and the Germans were suffering terrible losses.


Yevtushenko’s Mother took him from Siberia to Moscow.  They were in a huge crowd that witnessed a procession of 20,000 German prisoners of war being marched across Red Square.


Yevtushenko writes:


     “The pavements swarmed with the onlookers, cordoned off by soldiers and police.  The crowd was mostly women-Russian women with hands roughened by hard work, lips untouched by lipstick, and with thin hunched shoulders which had borne half of the burden of the war.  Everyone of them must have had a father or a husband, a brother or a son killed by the Germans.  They gazed with hatred in the direction from which the crowd was to appear.

     At last we saw it.  The generals marched at the head, massive chins stuck out, lips folded disdainfully, their whole demeanor meant to show superiority over their plebeian victors.  ‘They smell of perfume, the bastards,’ someone in the crowd screamed with hatred and rage.  The women were clenching their fists, some holding stones.  The soldiers and policemen had all they could do to hold them back.

     All at once something happened to them.  They saw German soldiers, thin, unshaven, broken, wearing dirty blood-stained bandages, hobbling on crutches or leaning the shoulders of their comrades.  The soldiers walked with their heads down.  The street was silent-the only sound was the shuffling of boots and the thumping of crutches.

     Then I saw and elderly women in broken-down boots push herself forward and touch a policeman’s shoulder, saying ‘Let me through.’  There must have been something about her which made him step aside.  She went up to the column, took from her coat something wrapped in a colored handkerchief and unfolded it.  It was a crust of black bread.  She pushed it awkwardly into the pocket of the soldier, so exhausted that he was tottering on his feet.  And now from every side women were running toward soldiers, pushing into their hands bread, cigarettes, whatever they had.  The soldiers were no longer enemies.  They were people.”


     This is the sort of story most history books pass over-miraculous moments when hatred and rage is replaced with mercy, compassion opens the way to actions of healing and forgiveness, and plain poverty becomes poverty of Spirit.  The gesture of a single old Russian woman broke thru hatred, warfare, bloodshed and division. Her eyes had been opened to see suffering German boys rather than murderous Nazi soldiers.  It was a moment when the reign of God flooded across Red Square—




     Our Gospel today is that of the beautifully poetic rendering of the traditional 8 Beatitudes.  Scripture scholars say that the Sermon on the Mount is the heart and soul, the “keynote address” of the teachings of Jesus, and the Beatitudes are the Heart of the Sermon on the Mount.  So, if we understand the Wisdom of the Beatitudes we come very close to the Heart of Jesus.


The Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes are not a verbatim report of a speech given by Jesus on a Galilean Hillside-but a compilation of the teachings of Jesus, from the early Christian Community after Easter, and a carefully and poetically crafted by Matthew.


Two key words are central to understanding the Beatitudes:  “Happy and Blessed.”  St. Jerome, in his classic translation of the Bible, from the original texts into Latin in the 4th century, translates the “Blessed statements” as “beatus” or “happy.”  Later in the 17th century, scholars began translating the original Greek “Makarios” as “Blessed,” indicating a deeper reality than simply happiness.  The meaning is translated more in terms of “Sharing in the life of God and being blessed with qualities that seem humanly impossible –much like the Russian woman who broke all human barriers of hatred and saw her enemies as broken young suffering boys and not as Nazi murderers.


But the Beatitudes are not easy to comprehend and are very problematic.  They embody a wisdom that goes against the wisdom of worldly experience.  The Beatitudes draw a very strange and troubling picture of the person who is “Makarios” –who is blessed.  She is poor in spirit and unimpressive.  He is hungry and mourning.  She is trodden on yet able to make peace. This is difficult wisdom to embrace-some say impossible and naïve.  Yet we see it every day in people who let go of themselves and become, like Mary, “Full of Grace.”


So what is the essential meaning of the Beatitudes?  The Beatitudes are a reflection of the true People of God—those who know their lives are not in their own control and who accept their dependence upon God.  Those who are “Makarios” and Blessed are not those who are most successful, or upwardly mobile, or aggressively competitive, but those whose security is totally in God.  Believe me, I am not challenging competence, or achievement or hard work or being successful in our work or family.  But I am saying that no matter how successful or competent or excellent we are, we all become broken deeply at times by life and it is then that we are challenged to become “Makarios”-dependent upon God.


Beatitude and Makarios is basically about dying to our false and destructive self.  Each of the beatitudes has to do with dying to the false self.  This spirit is best reflected in a beautiful quote from James Forest’s book, “The Ladder of the Beatitudes,” where he reflects up the first beatitude, Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.


     What does poverty of Spirit mean?  It is my awareness that I cannot save myself, that I am basically defenseless, that neither money nor power will spare me from suffering and death, and that no matter what I achieve and acquire in this life, it will be far less than I wanted.  Poverty of spirit is my awareness that I need God’s help and mercy more than I need anything else.  Poverty of spirit is getting free of the rule of fear, fear being the great force that restrains us from acts of love.  Being poor and spirit means letting go of the myth that the more I possess, the happier I will be.  It is an outlook summed up in a French proverb:  ‘When you die, you carry in your clutched hand only what you gave away.’  Poverty of spirit is a letting go of self and all that keeps you locked into yourself.?”


Such wisdom words for us.  And so Jesus calls us to be “Makarios-Makarios”-Blessed.  And the person who is “ Makarios” understands what is to be done in our daily living and decision making.  As is reflected in the beautiful and rich words of Micah from our first reading today—What is the person who is “Makarios”-Blessed-to do?


Of course, we are to “Act justly, Love tenderly, and to Walk humbly with our God.”


I wish you God’s peace.

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