Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray.
The Liturgy Forms the Spirit of Humility in the Hearts of God’s Remnant People
Today’s First Reading for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A comes from the Book of Zephaniah, 2:3 and 3:12-13. The interesting thing about the book of Zephaniah is that it is one of the shortest books in the Bible, and we do not know a whole lot about the prophet himself other than his lineage and that he prophesied during the reign of Josiah, the sixteenth king of Judah.
The witness of Zephaniah comes after about seventy-five years since Isaiah and Micah had prophesied. Zephaniah’s oracle reads as if it were just one breath from God, as it begins in verse one with, “The word of Lord which came to Zephaniah.” and ends in chapter 3, verse 20 with the closing phrase, “says the Lord.” As an Old Testament prophet, Zephaniah participated in that same prophetic tradition as those came before him by announcing the coming of the ‘day of the Lord’ (vv. 1:7 and 1:14), reminding us that God purifies His people through destruction, and challenges us with the fact that inasmuch as God had promised Abraham and Isaac that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, the reality is that there will only be a remnant left of God’s people in the end. According to Zephaniah’ oracle in today’s reading, perhaps the remnant will be so small because humility is becoming increasing rare in the world. For the prophet Zephaniah spoke, “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the earth, who have observed his law; seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger.” Then he spoke, “But I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD: the remnant of Israel.”
Whereas Zephaniah called the remnant of God’s people the humble ones, the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Church at Corinth in 1:26-31 thought to call them, the foolish, the weak, and the lowly ones, writing, “Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing to reduce to nothing those who are something.”
Then, in today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5) calls this remnant of the humble, foolish, weak, and lowly, the blessed ones. This is a consistent theme in the sacred Scriptures; that who you thought was cursed is actually well; who you thought was poor is actually rich, who you thought was forsaken has actually been chosen. Those who you overlooked, such as Joseph, Ruth, Moses, the young David, the Virgin Mother Mary, her cousin Elizabeth, the Apostle Paul, and countless others, are those who God has raised up.
When you consider the world, we are living in today, where there seems to be very few people who would choose mercy or killing their enemy; few who would choose peace over chaos, righteousness over sinful pleasure, persecution over making friends with the world, and poverty of spirit over having it all, you must believe that we are living in the day of the Lord’s return. Perhaps we are or perhaps we are not. It hardly matters for those who are living lives of repentance and in pursuit of Christ Jesus. Neither is it the concern of the liturgy of the Divine Symphony, which comes to form in us a heart that is humble.
Humble people are those who discern their failings and confess their sins openly as we do during the Rite of Penance during the first movement of the Mass, and humble people attend to and listen to the word of God, so that it might conform their hearts to Him as we do during the Liturgy of the Word, and humble people make their life a sacrifice for God as we promise we have when we pray in lifting up our hearts to Him during the Sursum Corda, and humble people confess that this life is not about them, but about God as we confess with our actions during the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist when we receive Him into our bodies to make our body like His, and humble people serve God as we do when are sent out to do during the Concluding Rite.
Even in our ancient liturgical traditions we are being formed to be humble people, to kneel, to pray, to confess, and to be in union with those in worship with us. Show me a humble heart and you’ve shown me a person who would crawl on their kneels for miles to receive the Holy Eucharist, not in their hand, but on their tongue. Assassins take and snatch, while those of humble of heart receive their gifts with patience and humility.
It is the tragedy of our current generation that we have a Church today that wants to cultivate in us the spirit of pride rather than the gift of humility by teaching us to stand before our King, rather than kneel. Teaching priests to make the liturgy all about themselves, rather than all about God. It is evident that pride rather than humility that is the mission of the Church today and it is precisely why we are increasingly witnessing a lack of those blessing in the Church that Jesus promised that meek, hungry, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, and the persecuted would see.
Yet, the remnant of God’s people has never been included in the religious establishment or their machinations. We have always been outside of their networks. We have always been persecuted by them, and that is how we know who they are, and we are easy for them to persecute because they know exactly who we are and how to find us because Zephaniah’s oracle told them; we are the ones who speak no lies and have no deceit on our tongue. They know us from the Apostle Paul who wrote that we are the ones who do not boast in ourselves, but boast in the Lord, and they know us from the promise of Christ Jesus that we are the saints; the ones who would be rewarded in Heaven.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.