Matthew 5:1-12a
Playing on the Winning Team by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted be permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.  He began to teach them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
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.

I grew up firmly entrenched in the world of sports.  I played plenty of baseball, basketball and football.  I also swam for many years.  One lesson I have learned is that most good athletes want to compete against the best athletes.  They know that they will improve their skills if they play with and compete against those who are really good at their sport.  Good athletes thrive when faced with a thrilling challenge; down by 6 with two minutes to go, ahead by 3 against the best offense in the conference, tied at the start of the final leg of a relay against the fastest qualifier.  Good athletes become great athletes when they learn to excel in the face of adversity.

I think that this lesson from sports translates to our life of faith.  If we want to become a true Christian, we need to dive into the most challenging dimensions of Christianity.  We need to be thrilled at the prospect of how Jesus desires to flip our world upside down and get us to live for God and neighbor and not for ourselves.  In particular, we need to come face to face with the message of the Eight Beatitudes.  The beatitudes represent the pinnacle of the new way of life that Jesus commends to His disciples.

In fact, Matthew makes the point that Jesus directs this part of His famous Sermon on the Mount to His disciples, not to the larger, uninitiated crowds that had recently begun to listen to Him.  Jesus thus teaches that we need some time at His feet, watching Him, learning from Him, being around Him and striving to live the basics of the Faith before we will be able to grasp what He is laying out for our reflection in the beatitudes.

The first beatitude is the door to the others.  Is the logical place to begin our efforts to dive deeply into the Gospel way of life.  It describes an attitude that needs to govern the heart of the Christian believer.  It shapes the whole way in which one approaches life.  The first beatitude is, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

The poor in spirit are those who are fully aware of their profound need for God in every dimension of their lives.  They have come to peace with the reality that God is God, and they are not.  They are convinced that everything good in life is completely free and flows from the generous hand of God.  They trust, like a child in the goodness of the Father and His desire to take care of His children.

The poor in spirit do not rely upon things or people for ultimate meaning or purpose in life, but rather rely upon the love and grace of almighty God.  They are quick to thank God and attribute their blessings and successes to Him.  They are also quick to turn to Him when suffering and adversity come, knowing that He will provide strength and show the way through the darkness into the light.  They think more about God and neighbor than about themselves, even in times of trial.

This radical reliance upon God that governs the heart of the Christian makes a person truly wise, strong and capable of great acts of love.  To be poor in spirit is to be Christ-like.

Once God's grace begins to penetrate our hearts and our lives and we start to become poor in spirit, then we will find it easier to understand and desire to live the other beatitudes as well.  For instance, Jesus also teaches us, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land."

Once we are deeply aware of our dependence upon God for any good that we do and every good thing that comes our way, we become meek and humble of heart.  We don't have to resort to playing the power card all the time to get things done.  We know when to be firm and when to be gentle.  We don't break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick.  We allow others to grow and develop at their own pace rather than force them to develop on our schedule.  When we are meek, we know our bottom lines and react with calm and patience to adversity because we know that God is in charge and has our back.  We are able to turn the other cheek rather than to react in anger and hurt.  We also know when to stand up against evil and remain firm in our stance against it.

The model for meekness is, of course, Christ in His passion.  Jesus displays meekness in particular by the way in which He handles His persecutors.  Jesus humbly embraces His cross because it is His Father's will, encourages the women to weep for their children and not for Him, and generously forgives those who put Him to death.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, as a Christian, I want to play on your team.  Through my prayer with the Scriptures, I want to watch you day in and day out on the fields and the courts of life.  I want to learn from you how to be an authentic Christian.  Pour your grace into my heart.  Transform my stony heart.  Make me poor in spirit, meek and humble of heart.

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