God's Word on Sunday: The humble, meek are gifted with God’s grace

  • January 27, 2023

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Jan. 29 (Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13; Psalm 146; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12)

The humble of the land are the foundation of God’s kingdom and the mortar that holds our world together. 

Humble in the Biblical sense did not mean self-abasement, timidity or a lousy self-image as it often does in our own culture. It described those who sought refuge in God rather than in power, wealth or forms of domination and exploitation. They lived and spoke the truth and sought unceasingly to do what is right. Rather than following the insatiable demands of ego, the humble guided their lives by being in harmony with the divine will. They were and still are rare birds indeed. We usually do not recognize them because they are not noisy, disruptive or violent.  

In the Old Testament, there is frequent reference to the anawim — the poor of the land — referring not so much to the economically poor but to the humble. The humble did not have recourse to the usual human means of self-assertion and obtaining justice. God alone was their protection and vindication. They were theologically significant in the Old Testament. 

Time after time, destruction and disaster overtook the people of Israel because of idolatry, injustice and sin. Cities were laid waste; the land was devastated; and the social order was swept away. The humble or anawim formed the remnant, and it was from them that God began the process of rebuilding the people and the nation. God rarely sought out or selected the powerful, mighty, influential and wealthy for the divine purpose. It was usually the lowly and least who were selected — the younger brothers, peasants, shepherds and those living on the margins of society. They were usually the ones whose hearts were closest to God. 

God’s choice of Mary to bear the Saviour should be seen in this context. She described her own humble status as one of the anawim and declared herself totally open to God’s will. As our own world continues to unravel in so many ways, the greatest response we can make is to be numbered among the humble of the land. It is from these many good, decent and compassionate people that God will build a new world on the ruins of the old.

God does not think much of human values or standards, so God chooses the lowly, weak and despised — at least in the eyes of the world. Jesus scandalized many people by those whom He befriended and called as followers. They were ordinary folk — and they had their share of human weaknesses and checkered backgrounds. But they also had hearts that were open and eager to serve God. When Jesus called, they responded and did not count the cost. No one had any “entitlement” to God’s favour, as God would make clear by these choices. The lowly were lifted up and gifted with the grace, wisdom and sanctity that comes from Christ alone.

The Beatitudes describe all of these qualities of the humble using different terms but with the same basic meaning. They describe everything that the world is not, and all of the principles that are ignored by many people. The poor in spirit are the humble anawim, and the meek are not weaklings but those who are gentle and non-violent. To hunger and thirst for righteousness as if it were our food and drink is a mark of one close to God’s heart. 

Mourning is the ability to feel empathy and compassion for those who suffer. The pure in heart focus with intensity on the values and principles of God rather than of humans. Mercy is the nature of God — to show mercy is to be godlike. Peacemaking is one of the most difficult but most rewarding and God-serving things that one can do. The Beatitudes come with a warning: living according to these principles will invite ridicule, resistance and even hostility. But these are signs that one is on the right track. 

The Beatitudes are all manifestations of God. The only one to reveal them perfectly in a human life was Jesus. For the rest of us, they are the goal towards which we grow and struggle. We are transformed — along with the world around us — to the degree that we live them out.