by Father Mike Stubbs
Once in a while, someone will come up to me after I have preached my homily and inform me that it seemed to them as though I was speaking directly to them.
That can be embarrassing if they feel as though they have been singled out for some secret sin or held up as an example for all to see.
It’s all a matter of perception. I do not set out to reveal anyone’s inner life or to draw public attention to them. It only seems that way. But that points to the purpose of the homily, to speak heart to heart.
Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mt 5:1-12a, transmits to us an echo of part of the most famous homily in all history, the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins it with those familiar words of the beatitudes.
In the first Eight Beatitudes, Jesus speaks in the third person. He teaches about the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and declares them blessed. They may be present before him in the audience, or they may be far away in distant corners of the earth. In either case, Jesus is speaking in general terms and addressing the persons in question.
But then, Jesus follows with another beatitude where he switches gears. In this final beatitude, Jesus directly addresses his audience: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
By these words, Jesus is alerting his disciples to what lies ahead for them. If they follow his teachings, if they embrace those values embodied in the previous beatitudes —such as peace, mercy, love for justice — they will face opposition from others. They will suffer in the extreme. But they will be blessed.
By directly addressing the disciples, Jesus removes his teachings from the theoretical and brings them into the practical. He is issuing a challenge, as well as formulating a teaching. He makes it personal.
Jesus is also speaking to us. Through the medium of Matthew’s Gospel, we also are present in the audience. It is as though we also are sitting on the grounds of the mountain at Jesus’ feet. They are not merely words spoken centuries ago in a far-off country. Jesus is speaking directly to us. He is speaking heart to heart.