Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word." The word of the Lord came to him, saying, "Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there." So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains:
from where shall come my help?
My help shall come from the Lord
who made heaven and earth. (R./)
May he never allow you to stumble!
Let him sleep not, your guard.
No, he sleeps not nor slumbers,
Israel's guard. (R./)
The Lord is your guard and your shade;
at your right side he stands.
by day the sun shall not smite you
nor the moon in the night. (R./)
The Lord will guard you from evil,
he will guard your soul.
The Lord will guard your going and coming
both now and for ever. (R./)
When he saw the crowds, Jesus went up the mountain; and after he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Poor people are not necessarily holier or more spiritual. Poverty in itself is not an ideal, but sometimes it brings out the best in a disciple. Notably, the first of the beatitudes is spoken to the "poor in spirit"--a kind of humility based upon dependence on God rather than on fame and fortune. It is linked to the patience and compassion which mark people as true disciples of Jesus. Poverty and mildness of spirit can be the school of compassion as well as purity of heart. More people are attracted to the faith by the compassion of its religious leaders than by any other virtue; more are turned away from religion by arrogance and dominance than by all other faults of those in charge of others, whether parents, teachers, priests or ministers.
Today's texts are a call to merciful spirit of servant-leadership and point to the good results to be achieved. Such leadership from our bishops and priests fosters a strong, caring Catholic community, a persevering community and foreshadows the kingdome of God. In such a community, those who have shared the suffering of Christ will richly share in his consolation. When we are poor in spirit, we let God accomplish the beatitudes in us, and then through us for others.
Portrait painting is a very specialized skill. I have loved visiting the portrait gallery just off Trafalgar Square in London. It has wonderful portraits of all kinds of people from the present time back through the centuries. People like to have their portraits painted. In popular tourist spots like the Piazza Navona, Rome, or Montmartre, Paris, you always will find people sitting to have their portraits pained by local artists.
We might think of the beatitudes as a very special kind of portrait. When Jesus spoke those beatitudes he was painting a portrait of himself. He is poor in spirit, in that he depends on God for everything; he is gentle and humble of heart; he mourns because God's will is not being done on earth as in heaven; he hungers and thirst for what is right, for what God wants, and is prepared to suffer to bring that about; he is merciful to the broken and the sinner; he has a purity of intention, wanting only what God wants; he works to make peace between God and humanity and among human beings.
In painting this word-portrait of himself, Jesus was also showing what his followers should aim to be. It is our portrait, and we are called to try and fit that portrait. We cannot become the person of the beatitudes on our own; we need the help of the Holy Spirit who works within us to mould us into the image and likeness of Christ.