Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Humbled by our Dignity

Lectionary Readings:

  • Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13. God shall leave behind a people humble and lowly, the remnant of Israel.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. God chose people absurd, weak and despised, so that no one could boast before God but rather find in God their wisdom, justice, sanctification and redemption.
  • Matthew 5: 1-12. By means of the beatitudes the disciples are instructed, that in weeping they can rejoice in God and that in single-heartedness they can see God.

Thoughts for your consideration:

For those of us who preach the Gospel message of justice and peace there is a certain theological paradox that we must contend with. Our God given human dignity calls us to a life of humility and service. The message of justice and peace flows from the awesome dignity that comes to us through the Gospel invitation to share in the divinity of Christ. This is the basis for the theological principle of human dignity from which we can say that we have inalienable human rights.  In Catholic doctrine this principle was spelled out in the encyclical “Pacem in Terris” where the Catholic Church approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Each individual man is truly a person. His is a nature, that is, endowed with intelligence and free will. As such he has rights and duties, which together flow as a direct consequence from his nature. These rights and duties are universal and inviolable, and therefore altogether inalienable. When, furthermore, we consider man’s personal dignity from the standpoint of divine revelation, inevitably our estimate of it is incomparably increased.

The paradox however is demonstrated in this week’s lectionary readings. Our human dignity, our freedom, and our claim to certain inalienable rights do not give us license to boast or the freedom to exercise our perceived rights over and against the human and ecological community. Instead, the readings tell us that this divine dignity challenges us to a lowly and humble life in service to one another.

Zephaniah follows the Prophetic style of depicting an imminent final judgment with a final message of hope. However Zephaniah seems to get carried away with his graphic message of destruction that hope only seems to surfaces as an afterthought towards the end. Even the message of hope itself is sounds a bit disheartening since all that will be left is the “remnant… perhaps”. The virtue that stands out for Zephaniah is humility. Righteousness and justice are also mentioned, but humility above all.        

Paul seconds Zephaniah’s emphasis on humility. Here in the second reading he cautions the Corinthian community against the sin of pride by emphasizing their own humble origins. The Gospel message of hope and dignity caused many of them to evoke a new sense of pride and self righteousness by emphasizing the apostolic tradition that they belonged to (Cephas, Paul or Apollos) but Paul is calling on them to maintain their humility for their dignity only exist through the grace of God. Ironically Paul himself struggles with humility and meekness as an academically trained Pharisee himself and this may account for what he calls the “thorn at my side”.

Jesus offers us the beatitudes in this week’s gospel reading and of course the blessings to the “poor in spirit” and the meek again remind us of the special role that the virtue of humility has for us who are called to share in the dignity of Christ.

Humility may be one of the hardest virtues for our own human condition to accept. We may work at loving others, seeking peace and struggling for what is just but what scripture tells us is that as noble and necessary as all these virtues are they miss their intended goal if they are not done in the spirit of humility. Humility will leads us to reflect on what the Church means by the principle of the “common good”. If my dignity comes from God who created all people and creatures then my own dignity can only be understood in relationship to God and all creation. Thus my dignity calls me to serve all who share in God’s dignity. Yes I am called to promote justice and peace but it must be a true to the form that it serves all of creation including myself. In being humble I must allow myself to be challenged by the just needs of others even if it goes against my own self interest.

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About jdgonzo73

I am a Catholic lay minister in the field of Christian ethics, Latino theology and Paulacrucian spirituality. I am currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Fordham, an ad-junct professor at Molloy College and St. John's University and the Project Coordinator with the Catholic Roundtable.
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