FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Neither strength nor brains last forever
First Reading (Zeph 2:3; 3:12-13) : God will preserve the lowly and humble people.
Second Reading (1 Cor 1:26-31 ) :God chooses the weak of the world to confound the wise
Gospel ( Mt 5:1-12) : Teaching on the Mountain :the Eight Beatitudes
“He who knows how to control everything is himself not to be controlled by anything.”(1)
“Strength does not last forever, And neither does ability.” (2)
“In youth, ere grief to me was known, I loved to climb on high; I loved to climb on high, In many a laboured way, Grief would I there portray.” (3)
“At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the limitation of life that is decreed by Heaven.” (4)
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:3)
There are many states and levels of poverty of spirit. First, it refers to a life of simplicity, a life not controlled by material things. It is what Zhuang Zi meant by “He who knows how to control everything is himself not to be controlled by anything.”(1) It means we can use things but not be used or controlled by them.
To be poor in spirit also means to know how to appreciate and enjoy everything, not to be greedy about what we do not have. It means to live contentedly and at ease when we lack something.
Sometimes people purposely choose to be poor in spirit and lead a simple and poor life. In the Church we sometimes see rich, important people who give up a royal identity, wealth and everything to lead a monastic life and become materially poor as well as poor in spirit. That too is to be poor in spirit.
Poverty of spirit is also a state of mind. Once Zhuang Zi met a prince who said to him, “Chuang, sir, Why do you look so dispirited and depressed” Zhuang Zi replied, “I am not dispirited and depressed. I am only poor. What I lack are some external material possessions. But I possess a life full of energy which comes from above.”
The above are some states of poverty of spirit. But the deepest meaning of being poor in spirit is a spirit of “emptying oneself”.
One time Confucius was very unhappy. Seeing this his students did not know what to do. Confucius' most talented student, Yan Hui, picked up a stringed instrument and played it at the door of Confucius' room. When Confucius heard the music he called Yan Hui in and questioned him, “Why are you so happy?” Yan Huii answered, “Master, we also want to know why you are so unhappy.” But Confucius wanted Yan Hui to answer first.
Yan Hui said, “Master, I remember one of the lessons I learned from you: We should be content with one's lot and should not worry.”
Confucius said, “ Correct! To be content with one's lot and do not worry. Truly that is what I said before. But today I have something to add to it. When I was young, I revised the Book of Poetry and amended the books of Rites and Music. I worked hard on all this. My aim was to rule the world and leave a legacy to posterity so that the world could be ruled properly and generations after generations could live happily. But my painful experience of being a statesman and ruling the state of Lu was that I did not achieve very much at all. If during my lifetime I could not rule the small state of Lu very well, how could I engage in extravagant talk about ruling the world for all eternity?. Is that not foolish boasting?
Therefore, even though I am content with my lot, I have this great worry. I am worried that I can do my own share well but I cannot help others. I can only fare well on a small scale but not on a large scale. I can accomplish bits and pieces in my lifetime but I have no outstanding achievement to leave for future generations after my death.”
When Confucius said, “At fifty, I knew the limitation of life that is decreed by Heaven,” he was referring to his understanding of his limitations. Looking back at the past, he summed up his life history: “At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the limitation of life that is decreed by Heaven.”(4) The decrees of Heaven were limitations – and one could feel deeply one's own limitations. This feeling of being limited is the feeling of being poor in spirit.
What are we? We have nothing of ourselves. No matter who we are, there are times when we may not or cannot do anything, or accomplish anything at all.
Xin Qiji described the above feeling of limitation in a light-hearted way in his poem, “The Ugly Slave Boy”. He said,: “In youth, ere grief to me was known, I loved to climb on high; I loved to climb on high, In many a laboured way, Grief would I there portray. But now with grief familiar grown, Slower to speak am I; Slower to speak am I, At most, I pause and say, ‘What a fine autumn day.’”(3) In his youth, Xin Qiji liked running up tall buildings and write poetry about grief. He was in high spirits. But now in his old age, having experienced changes and grief in the world, there was much to say but where could he begin? What could he say? Why not simply say, “What nice weather!”
Confucius and Xin Qiji were not being pessimistic. They had reached the peak of their lives and came to realize that one should learn to restrain oneself in actions as well as in words, retreat, be humble. Their experiences taught them that “Strength does not last forever, And neither do brains.”(2) They were no longer self-centred or assumed that they were always right. That is poverty of spirit.
The poor in spirit see their position very clearly, before God, in the universe and in the tide of history. Truly there are things we can do, yet there are many more things about which we can do nothing. We have the ability to do some things, but there are even more things we cannot do.
When we are humble and empty of self and when we entrusted ourselves to God totally, we will experience what it means by “the kingdom of heaven is theirs”. God will enter our lives, and take over our lives, complete our lives, and fulfil our lives. God’s strength will then become our strength, and God shall become our everything.
Happy are the poor in spirit for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are the humble for God will be theirs. Happy are those who feel they have nothing and can do nothing, because God's strength will become their strength.
Dear Father, help us empty ourselves entirely so that you can take over our hearts and our lives entirely.