Friday, February 1, 2008

The Values of the Kingdom of Heaven

Gospel Commentary for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

ROME, FEB. 1, 2008 ( This Sunday's Gospel is about the Eight Beatitudes and begins with the celebrated verse: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

This statement about "the poor in spirit" is often misunderstood today, or is read with an indulgent smile, as if it were something to be believed only by the ingenuous. And, in fact, Jesus never said simply, "Blessed are the poor in spirit!" He never dreamed of saying something like that.

The second part is important: He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This is something different. Jesus' thought is completely misunderstood and made banal when only half of his statement is cited. Woe to the separation of the beatitude from its reason.

To offer a grammatical example, it would be like someone pronouncing a protasis and not following it with an apodosis. Suppose someone said: "If today you sow," then said nothing further. What could this mean? Nothing!

But if you added: "Tomorrow you will reap," then everything would be clear. In the same way, if Jesus had merely said: "Blessed are the poor," the statement would sound absurd. But when he adds: "For theirs is the kingdom of heaven," everything makes sense.

But what is this blessed kingdom of heaven that brought about the "inversion of all values?" It is the wealth that is not lost, that thieves cannot steal, that cannot rust away. It is the wealth that does not have to be left to others at death, but that you take with you. It is the "hidden treasure" and the "precious pearl" for which, in order to possess it, the Gospel says it is worth it give away everything.

The coming of this kingdom caused a kind of "political crisis" of global import, a radical re-organization. It opened new horizons; a little like when, in the 1400s, a new world -- America -- was discovered, and the powers that had a monopoly on trade with the East -- Venice for example -- suddenly found themselves unprepared and entered into crisis. The old values of the world -- money, power, prestige -- were changed, relativized, even if they were not repudiated, on account of the coming of the kingdom.

What now of the rich man? A man puts aside an enormous sum of money and during the night the value of the currency drops 100%. In the morning he wakes up a proletarian, even if he does not yet know it. The poor, on the other hand, have an advantage with the coming of the kingdom of God, because, not having anything to lose, they are more ready to welcome the new state of affairs and are not afraid of the change. They can invest everything in the new currency. They are more ready to believe.

But we think differently. We believe that the changes that count are the visible and social ones, not those that happen in faith. But who is right? In the last century we experienced many revolutions of this type, but we also saw how easily, after a time, they ended up reproducing, with different protagonists, the same situation of injustice that they had said they wanted to eliminate.

There are levels and aspects of reality that are not perceived with the naked eye, but only with the help of a special light. Today, with satellites in space, infrared photographs are made of whole regions of the earth and how different they look in the light of these rays!

The Gospel, and in particular, our beatitude of the poor, gives us an image of the world bathed in a special light, in a kind of "infrared" light. It helps us to see what is beneath, or beyond, the facade. It allows us to distinguish that which remains from that which is passing.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for this Sunday are Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12a.

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