When we were children, we were taught to obey the Ten Commandments. It was the moral code that governed our lives. These Ten Commandments were framed mainly by things to avoid like: don't lie, don't cheat, don't kill, don't bear false witness, don't covet, don't swear, don't commit adultery, etc. But in today's Gospel, Jesus calls his followers to the much higher moral code of the Beatitudes, a code demanding positive action and behavior, often in the face of extreme difficulties. I'm not certain why we were taught to live more by the Ten Commandments presented by Moses than by the Beatitudes presented by Jesus; but I think it was a serious oversight and mistake. We are not followers of Moses; we are followers of Jesus! Of course we should obey the Commandments; but that's not the hallmark of Christianity. The Beatitudes are the hallmark!
In the Beatitudes, Jesus is calling us to establish his kingdom on earth. He is calling us to make this earth what God wants it to be. In the Beatitudes, Jesus is calling us to be focused, to be peacemakers, justice seekers, to be people of compassion who stand with those who mourn, those who are poor and hungry and sick, those who are persecuted. Why? Because when Jesus is born of Mary on the first Christmas night, God becomes as human as we are. God no longer simply stands separate and distant from us as Creator of the Universe. In Jesus, God is one of us, completely and without conditions! From now on, Jesus declares, God can best be known to us in and as our neighbor, only in and as our common call to justice, mercy, compassion, thankfulness and truthfulness.
From now on, our salvation is not a reward for being good; it is a gift given to unworthy people in unlikely circumstances at unexpected times. The reign of God is nothing less than God coming to life in our hearts and bodies. Remember the final judgment scene in the Gospel? There it is written:
"I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was homeless and you gave me a room, shivering and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you stopped to visit, in prison and you came to see me.' But they said, "Master, what are you talking about! When did we ever see you like this and help you?" And the Master will say, "I'm telling you the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me! You did it to me!" Notice he did not say, "It was like doing it to me" or "It was as if you did it to me." He said simply, "You did it to me!"
The Beatitudes have a very simple rule: to serve people is to serve God, because that's the way God wants it. God wants his reign on earth to be one of universal peace and justice. You and I are called by Baptism and by our commitment to Jesus to make this happen in our lives, step by step, one day at a time. May our hearts and minds be open to the frequent opportunities that come our way.