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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.

Yet as Jesus’ earliest followers also discovered, once someone commits himself or herself to relating to God and one another in a totally unselfish way, their whole lives turn upside down.


Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13
I Corinthians 1:26-31
Matthew 5:1-12a

I presume one of the most difficult things the historical Jesus encountered as an itinerant preacher was simply to get people to “try it:” to actually carry out the unique concepts he was sharing; to weave these new behavior patterns into their daily lives. Matthew has placed many (but not all) of these concepts in his well-known Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7). For the next four weekends we’re going to be hearing some of Jesus’ “unconventional” ways of relating to others.

I once paraphrased several of these concepts and read them to a junior boys’ religion class, asking just two questions: “Who said this?” and “What do you think about what he or she said?” Though at that point they had at least 10 years of Catholic religious education, not one student could tell me who taught the morality Matthew included in his Sermon on the Mount!

One young man finally raised his hand and said, “I don’t know who said those things, but whoever it was must have been crazy!” Most people find it quite difficult to both appreciate and imitate the faith of Jesus.

That seems to be why Paul of Tarsus not only was amazed that some Corinthians could do both, but it also forced him to reflect on the caliber of people who actually pulled this off. “Not many of you,” he writes, “were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” This certainly ran counter to his expectations.

There could only be one reason for these most unlikely people to accept and imitate Jesus’ dying and rising: God. Who else would have chosen “the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something?” As the historical Jesus had promised, the Apostle eventually discovered God at work in these “weak, foolish” individuals.

Paul’s experience ran parallel to that of the classic Hebrew prophets like Zephaniah. Like all those unique individuals who spoke in Yahweh’s name, Zephaniah had to deal with the disappointment that only a handful of Israelites actually listened to and carried out their words. Only this “poor, lowly remnant” dared “take refuge” in Yahweh. The vast majority of the prophet’s audience looked in other directions for the security they needed.

Yet as Jesus’ earliest followers also discovered, once someone commits himself or herself to relating to God and one another in a totally unselfish way, their whole lives turn upside down. That seems to be why Matthew chose to begin, not end his Sermon on the Mount with the “Beatitudes.” Though chronologically such a reflection usually happens at the end, not the beginning of our faith experience, it gives his readers something to look forward to.

Such things as poverty and mourning take on a deeper meaning. Seeking for righteousness – creating life-giving relationships with one another – gives us more satisfaction than anything else we’ll achieve in our lives. Being mercy-giving and peace-creating people turn us into the individuals God expects us to be.

But on the other hand, such a constant quest for righteousness will certainly bring problems and persecution. Many of our friends will believe we’re also “crazy.” Though we don’t enjoy such painful encounters, never should they weaken our determination to work at becoming other Christs. It’s the one thing that brings real blessedness – real satisfaction – to our otherwise humdrum lives.

The late Karl Rahner once remarked that once Christians become more than 20 per cent of the population, the faith becomes so watered down that it no longer has an effect on the world around us. In God’s plan, only an “insane” remnant can actually change things.